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Onomastics or onomatology is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names. The words are from the Greek: "ὀνομαστικός" (onomastikos), "of or belonging to naming"[1][2] and "ὀνοματολογία" (onomatologia), from "ὄνομα" (ónoma) "name".[3] Toponymy or toponomastics, the study of place names, is one of the principal branches of onomastics. Anthroponomastics is the study of personal names.

For most if not all cultures, only one name is needed to indicate certain important or well-known persons without ambiguity. In others, a single personal name may be insufficient, requiring alteration to a hypocoristic/diminutive nickname or addition of a byname based on a specific individual's traits, family, home, occupation, or other. In most of the world, individually-based bynames have become hereditary family names, perhaps retaining little descriptive resemblance to the ancestral namesake's original byname.

Most Western European cultures use the name order indicated by the common synonymous phrases "first name" for personal name and "last name" or "surname" for family name. However, this differs from traditional East Asian and Hungarian usages, which place the family name before the personal name. Western European cultures may also use the term "middle name" to refer to a second personal name (e.g. the "Fitzgerald" in John Fitzgerald Kennedy). In other cultures, however, the second name may mean something else. In Russian, the second name is a patronym: the sons of Mikhail Ivanov would all carry the second name "Mikhailovich". In Roman names, the second name is actually a second surname: Julius Caesar's full name was Gaius Julius Caesar, with Gaius being his personal name, Julius the name of his clan, and Caesar the name of the sub-family he belonged to inside that clan.

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