What Is A Given Name? Exploring The Term And Its Meaning

Have you ever wondered, "what is a given name?" Maybe not, but it's a good possibility that, whatever your given name is, you either hate, love it, or have come to simply accept it. Before deciding how you feel about your given name, you need to know the difference between a given name and your surname. The term 'middle name' is self-explanatory.

 Your surname is the name you usually share with your family and is commonly known as your last name. Your given name is your first name, and how you got can be as simple as it just being a name your parents liked or a name full of meaning and purpose. Let's look at both options and what is a given name.

What Is A Given Name?

name on board

​Image Source: Pexels

A given name is what your parents chose for you, either before you were born or shortly after. There can be several factors that influence your given name. It could be a name your folks have always liked. It might have been the name of a loved and revered family member they wanted to honor. A given name can be anything your parental units dreamed up, from keeping it all in the family and naming you after your dad to giving you a unique spelling of a common name. Some parents even go outside of their own culture to choose a given name just to make sure the name is one that will be unique and remembered.  

When we researched, "what is a given name," it was surprising to see that given names have a history just as rich in meaning as surnames do. English surnames usually signified what the father did for a living, such as Baker or Blacksmith. Surnames that end with "son" are common in Nordic cultures and usually signify the name of an ancestor: Anderson, the son of Ander, for example.

In Native American cultures, surnames were often clan-based, while the given name would be a physical attribute, such as Littlefoot. In African American culture, particularly during slave days, surnames were most likely the last name of the slave owner and the first name, or given name, had African roots or had a spiritual meaning such as Faith or meanings of freedom like Liberty. So, what is a given name historically? The answer is older than what you might think.

​The History of Given Names

book with glasses

​Image Source: Pexels

​Honestly, no one really knows when naming people really began, but we know that given names are at least as old as Biblical times, if not older. There is no way to know what those early caveman drawings represented when it comes to names!

The history of given names traces back to the Bible and later to Gaelic and Roman and Greek influences. There was even a time when there were set laws about what a given name could be, and there are still countries that may change the name of an infant if the courts feel the given name is wrong or will be burdensome to the child later in life. Below you'll find what we feel are great points to consider when trying to understand your own given name.

Biblical

​The Bible says one of the first things that man did was to start naming, and if you look at early baptismal records in Western cultures you'll see that many early given names were Hebrew, such as Adam and Abraham or Miriam and Esther. While some biblical names have died out, such as Enoch and the formal Nathaniel, we use modernized versions today such as Nathan for Nathaniel and Mary for Miriam. Religious families often give their children biblical names as a sign of devotion to their faith.

Gaelic

Gaelic given names and Native American names are similar because both use adjectives and nouns for given names. Conan is a noun that means hound, while Finn is an adjective that means bright. Given names that use nouns and adjectives allow the parents to pick a name that has a specific meaning in one of two areas. One way for the name to be unique is for the given name to have a relationship with an attribute such as strength or beauty. The other way for a given name to have meaning is to choose an adjective you hope will be an attribute of the person, such as Joy or Merry.

The Law

​In Europe, there once was a regulation meant to stop so-called unimportant names from being spread. The law stated that the given name of your child had to be one of the Catholic saints. If you didn't choose one of these names, you still got to name your child what you wanted but then the priest would put the name of the saint as the child's middle name.

This was not the only law regarding "what is a given name." After the French Revolution allowed citizens to name children however they wanted, outlandish given names started to appear. To stop this from becoming the fashion, a law still on the books in France states given names have to be from people known in ancient history or ones used in the different church calendars.

In Western civilization today, there are few laws regarding your given name. You can even change your first name as long as the reason for the change is not to avoid legal action or to commit fraud. To change your first name, you need to file paperwork with the courts and have a judge rule that you can now use the name of your choosing. After that, you also have the choice of having your old name removed from your birth certificate and having your new one added. If you're a minor, you will need your parent's permission and help to change your name.

​​

Roman/Greek

Roman and Greek names cross over each other and were among the first to use compound names for given names. A compound name is a name that uses two words that have different meanings. The reason for this sort of given name was to attach a more cultural meaning to the name being given. Examples are Nikolaos, which means "people of victory," or Theodoros, meaning "gift of god." Romans not only used compound names but were the ones who created the norm of having three names: your given name, a middle name, and a nickname. In their culture, it was usually the middle name that was used as the given name.

All In the Family

​​When considering "what is a given name," you might not have to look any further than your own family to discover the origins. There are many men in the world who are Juniors, Seniors, and Thirds. Somewhere in that family's history it just became a tradition to pass down the male given name from one son to the other. There are plenty of daughters who are named after a grandmother or a favorite aunt, as well. Your given name could be the name of a family member or close family friend who has passed on.

​The 21st Century

​​Today, given names are not only up to the parents but can be any combination of words. People name their children after foods, such as Apple and Raisin. Some names make little sense, such as directions or just a single letter. There is no right or wrong today when it comes to what a given name could be.

A well-known modern practice has been to choose names from literary greats, like Emily and Edgar. Even movies and celebrities can influence a given name. After the Twilight movies were released, many girls were named Bella, and the popularity of television shows such as Friends spurred an influx of Jennifers, Phoebes, and Monicas.

​Conclusion

book with rosary

​Image Source: Pexels

Now you know "what is a given name" and some history of how given names have changed. You may still not like your given name, and keep your middle name under wraps, but maybe now you can appreciate that your parents probably gave you your name for a reason. If the reason isn't an obvious one, like a family given name, or the reason just hasn't been explained to you, you have two choices. "Just ask" would probably be the easiest one, but if you're looking for a more in-depth answer into the origins of your given name, there are several books that could help.

A Dictionary of First Names (The Oxford Reference Collection) is a great book for some basic information on given names. You can find the origin, how long the name has been in use, and what the name means. The book also gives your name with different variations, what the shorten form might look like, and some possible pet names. Exploring what your given name means not only gives you some insight into your name but might just help you decide whether it's a name that should be passed on to the next generation.

Now you know "what is a given name" and some history of how given names have changed. You may still not like your given name, and keep your middle name under wraps, but maybe now you can appreciate that your parents probably gave you your name for a reason. If the reason isn't an obvious one, like a family given name, or the reason just hasn't been explained to you, you have two choices. "Just ask" would probably be the easiest one, but if you're looking for a more in-depth answer into the origins of your given name, there are several books that could help.

A Dictionary of First Names (The Oxford Reference Collection) is a great book for some basic information on given names. You can find the origin, how long the name has been in use, and what the name means. The book also gives your name with different variations, what the shorten form might look like, and some possible pet names. Exploring what your given name means not only gives you some insight into your name but might just help you decide whether it's a name that should be passed on to the next generation.

​Featured Image Source: Pexels

890 Comments

  1. 1
  2. ADA
  3. W88
  4. {
  5. {
  6. Web
  7. 1
  8. 1
  9. sex

Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

You've Got To See This

I Certify This Post Is Awesome Friends!