Family name

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A family name (in Western contexts often referred to as a last name) is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world. Each culture has its own rules as to how these names are applied and used.

In many cultures (notably Euro-American, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African) the family name is normally the last part of a person's name. In other cultures, the family name comes first. The latter is often called the Eastern order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples from East Asia, specifically China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Since family names are normally given last in European societies, the term last name is commonly used for family name.

Family names are most often used to refer to a stranger or in a formal setting, and are often used with a title or honorific such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr, and so on. Generally the given name, first name, forename, or personal name is the one used by friends, family, and other intimates to address an individual. It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed. This practice also differs between cultures, see T-V distinction.

In this article, family name and surname both mean the patrilineal (literally, father-line) surname, handed down from or inherited from the father's line or patriline, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Thus, the term "maternal surname" means the patrilineal surname which one's mother inherited from either or both of her parents. In contrast, the "matrilineal surname" or "mother-line surname", handed down from or inherited from the mother's line, is treated in its own section of a totally separate article, to avoid complicating this large Family name article—see Matrilineality's Matrilineal surname section.


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