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Surname, First Name: Do People Make Assumptions About You Based on Your Surname?

By Family GovernanceSeptember, 2023March 18th, 20242 min read
Surname, First Name

In most places today, people have both a given (or first) name and a family name, but the order of those names is culturally based. Some Asian countries like Japan, China and Korea, as well as several European countries put the family name first. When a son is named after his father (and this predominately happens with males), he might take on a Jr or a Roman numeral as a suffix, and royals and popes are known by a first name and a numeric suffix.

These different ways of naming and using names are reflections of the relative importance of the given vs the family names. Having a well-known family name can be a double-edged sword. It immediately identifies you to others as part of something larger, something that preceded you (and will likely succeed you), and all the ‘baggage’ that comes with that: family reputation, history and expectations.

The family name can open doors that would be closed to others, and also give you respect (or notoriety) that may have little to do with you personally. People may rush to assumptions and prejudices about you because of your family. They may invite you to participate in something with ulterior motives, or not take the time to get to know you as an individual.

Most of us are both individuals and part of a family. Having a name like John Smith IV can often be an impediment to discovering who you really are.

Consider This: To what extent do others make assumptions about you based on your surname? How do you deal with those assumptions? Has the decision to take a different surname (e.g. a married name) been influenced by the baggage of your birth family name? In your family, what is the relative importance of family vs individual?

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