Difference between Surname and Family Name

Key Difference: Surname is an important part of a personal name. A surname is the name which a person shares with other family members. It is generally passed from one generation to the other. Family name also refers to surname. Therefore, there is no difference between them.

People have different names throughout the world. The different cultures have given rise to various naming patterns and styles. They can differ from one country to another. However, the general approach has remained the same. The personal name of a person consists of a given name or forename that is usually kept by the parents. This name may or may not have any meaning.

The siblings are given different forenames in order to distinguish between their names. Another important naming term is the surname or the family name. It is the name that has been acquired by the ancestors and is passed from one generation to the other. This name is known as the surname. Now, since it is also representing the family roots and passing in a family from one generation to the other, it is also referred as the family name. Hence, the terms are also defined as same in the Oxford Dictionary:-

It defines surname as

       ‘a hereditary name common to all members of a family, as distinct from a forename or given name’

It defines family name as:

       ‘a surname’

For example- in the full name ‘Maria Sarah Taylor’, Maria is the first name as well as the forename. Taylor represents the family name or we can also call it the family name. In most of the countries, the surname or family name is placed at the last, therefore it is also known by the last name.

The term 'surname' is supposed to be derived from medieval French word 'surnom' meaning “above-or-over name". Surname is the name that we share with our family members.

In countries like Japan and China, the order of palcement of forename and family name is reverse. The family name comes before the first name. For example, in a Chinese personal name ‘Wong Dia,’ Wong is the surname and Dia is the given name. The surnames pass from one generation to the other and therefore represent the family. The ancestors must have got their surnames due to some reasons like- may be named after their occupation, or location, or any attribute, it can be anything. These family names are important part of personal names and thus, used to identify the next generation of the same parent generation. Thus, whatever be our surname, it reflects the identity of our ancestors or some connection with the ancestors.

You might be wondering about your surname or family name. You may ask your parents about the information or refer to some books based on genealogy. So, next time if someone asks your surname or family name, you might answer the question with some additional information.

Image Courtesy: edsitement.neh.gov

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