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The Origin of Names

A personal name can be made up of multiple components, which identify an individual, their lineage, family or clan. The part that refers to the individual is known as a given name. It can be made up of multiple names; the first of which is known as a first name or forename. This pages allows you to search first names – their meaning, popularity and distribution.

A given name may consist of only one name (the first name) or multiple names, in which case subsequent names are referred to as middle names. Today middle names are common among people with a Catholic, Protestant, Islamic or South Asian background.

Zoologists have found names are used by some animals, such as dolphins and parrots. So it is possible the ancestors of humans have been using names for more than one million years. But the written record of human history only spans back a little over 5,000 years. Thus much of our ancestors' naming traditions are lost. The earliest known recorded name is that of the Egyptian ruler Serket, who lived around 5,200 years ago.

Presently names are typically recorded at birth in a civil registry. Previously they may have been given at a religious ceremony, such as baptism. In primitive cultures names could be changed during ones lifetime, based on an experience or status in their tribe.

In primitive cultures names were often given to transpose characteristics onto a child, .e.g 'watchful boar', 'wild cat', 'beloved' and 'leader of men'. As societies became more formally organized, with more homogeneous religions and social hierarchies, it became the trend to name children after other people – typically religious figures or leaders. An aim of which was to transpose the characteristics of the namesake onto the child. It was also common to name children for elder family members or close friends. With the decline of religion and rigid social structures the number of names grew in concert with literacy and access to literature. People began borrowing names from other cultures – both contemporary and classical. Increasingly names have been given with no care for the meaning or namesakes, but for purely aesthetic reasons. The impetus has moved from makings a child in an image, to allowing the child to be a blank slate - to write itself. There is now generally an aversion to giving children popular names or the names of famous people. So we often see the popularity of names rise and wane dramatically with each generation.

This new era in naming custom has also seen the rise of newly created names. Sometimes these are variations of spelling that are more appropriate for the representative culture like Kristi and Cheri; concatenations of names like Billyjoe and Tommylee; additions of prefixes or suffixes like DeShawn, TyneIsha and TrayVon; from places names like Brooklyn and Paris; from surnames like Mackenzie and Murphy; and from characteristics like Precious and Providence.

Names are typically male or female, with the exception of Asia (particularly much of The Far East) where the gender of a name is more ambiguous.

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