Surname vs Last Name
The difference between surname and last name depends on cultural identification. In normal circumstances, hardly anyone pays attention to different components of a person’s name, if he happens to have first name, middle name, and then last name. But the very same components become important when filling out any important form that is official or when applying for any government documents such as passport or driver’s license. The information that is specifically asked regarding the name is first name, middle name, and last name or surname. This is confusing to many as it is used differently in different cultures. At least in western cultures, your last name happens to be your surname too. Let us take a closer look at last name and surname.
What is Surname?
When a child is born, he is given a name by his parents, which becomes his identification feature for life. It is also referred to as his Christian name or the name given at baptism. This name differentiates him from rest of his family members all of whom share a common family name, which is passed down to generations and is shared by all members, dead or alive. First name is often a reflection of physical traits of a kid, though it also depends upon the whims and wishes of parents, and sometimes grandparents.
However, there is confusion among people pertaining to the difference between last name and surname. As far as western cultures are concerned, family name or last name also happens to be the surname of a person, and it is a tradition that started way back in 11th and 12th century AD.
What is Last Name?
Last name in the literal sense means the name that appears last. This is used by western culture because the family name or the surname of an individual in the western culture comes at the end of the name. So, whether they say last name, family name, or surname, they are referring to the name that belongs to the person’s family. This name order situation changes when it comes to cultures such as Japan, China, India, Hungary, etc. Chinese people place surname before first name, whereas it is just the opposite in western world where last name is the surname and surname is never placed before the first name. So if you are in China or Japan, your surname is not the last name, but the first name and your real name becomes your last name. This is just regarding the way Chinese culture places their names. However, you just have to understand the universally accepted way of placing your surname or family name at the end as the last name and answer the questions appropriately, if you are in a Western country. Because there in a western country, last name is another term that is used to refer to your family name. That does not change.
What is the difference between Surname and Last Name?
• Connection between Surname and Last Name:
• The surname of a person is his family name, and is shared by all members of the family, dead or alive.
• Last name is the name that comes at the end of the name. This refers to the family name of a person in western culture.
• Cultural Difference in Placement:
• In western world, surname is also referred to as family name or last name, and is placed after the name given to a kid at birth.
• However, in some cultures such as Chinese and Japanese cultures, surname is not placed at last, and comes before the real name of a person, which is very confusing to many people.
• In such cultures, surname is not placed last but as the first name.
There is a very small thing to understand with regard to surname and last name. Universally, both surname and last name refer to the family name of a person no matter what culture you come from even if you place them differently. If you are from an Asian culture that places the family name at the beginning, just remember that when a Western person asks your last name he or she is referring to your family name. So, without being confused by your family name being placed at the beginning of your name, answer the person with your family name.
- US dog tag by Totsi100 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
- Chinese man via Pixabay (Public Domain)
Celso Azevedo says
In countries of Spanish origin, the family name (which is inherited from the father) comes before the mother’s surname.
So the last name would be the middle name.
For example: the name of the famous painter Salvador Dali was Salvador Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech, Domènech being his mother’s surname.
James (Jim) L. Fidelholtz, Ph. D. (Linguistics) says
The discussion of names in Google needs expanding, since it is very terse and thus confusing, even in its various instantiations taken jointly. Celso Acevedo’s comments on matronymics in (especially Mexican, but variably in other national or local varieties of Spanish) is a case in point. I might point out two more cases: The most egregious one (for me) is the FORCED use of initials in ‘first’ names (praenomina) in bibliographies, notoriously in the A. P[sychological] A. stylesheet, but all too often also in many scientific stylesheets. If you think this is trivial, and especially in the case of my surname, please note that there is ANOTHER Dr. James Fidelholtz (middle initial I., an M. D., and apparently not related to me) who has actually been confused with me, at least occasionally on the bibliographic site Academia.org). The other, much worse, case is that of Chinese surnames, where more than one BILLION Chinese share only less than 100 (!!) surnames. Imagine the chaos if, for example, a guy named Lu Chen were forced to initialize his first name, along with the (at least) 100 million other “L. Chens”. (I perhaps exaggerate, but you can see my point.) Fortunately, the Chinese orthography does not lend itself to initialization (except in, e. g., the U. S.).