Names Lesson


Cultural differences and useful language related to names

Names lesson

Part One: Vocabulary

What is missing from each of the lists below? What do all three lists have in common?

  • First/ Last/ Family/ Given/ Christian/ Middle/ Pet/ Full/ Maiden/ Professional/ Pen/ Change your/ Take someone’s/ Stage/ Screen/ Assume a/ Unisex/ Biblical/ Real/ Go by a/ Rude ____________
  • Ano___ous/ Epo____ous/ Pseudo____
  • ____ de plume/ de guerre

Check with these cards, then ask your partner and then teacher about any expressions you don’t understand.


Surname/ Family name/ Last name

Given name(s)/ First name/ Christian name


Full name


Full name and title






Middle name


Middle initial



(Mother’s) maiden name




The Third



Professional name



Pen name/ Nom de plume


Nom de guerre



Take someone’s name


Deed poll


(Affectionate/ Insulting) nickname

Shortened name/ Short form of a name




Letters after your name


Named after…


Pet name





Unisex names


Stage names


Patron saint



Biblical name


Anon/ Anonymous




Screen name



Assume a name


Middle initial



Mispronounce someone’s name


Go by the name…



Rude names/ Call someone names


Common name


Popular name







Double-barrelled (sur)name



Choose one of the cards above and talk about that topic for as long as you can.

What cultural differences can you think of about the things above?

Are any of the things in the following list true for your country?

  1. The names of famous people are often shortened, e.g. Bra Pi for Brad Pitt
  2. People are often given another name after they die
  3. The King or Emperor is rarely referred to by their actual name
  4. People put their surname before their given name, sometimes with the family name in capitals so that foreigners can see which is which.
  5. It is old-fashioned, but you still see letters addressed to wives with their husband’s name, e.g. “Mr and Mrs Egbert Case” or “Mrs Egbert Case”
  6. You can sometimes tell the class of someone’s family by their family name
  7. Having many middle names often means an aristocratic background
  8. You can often tell which part of the country someone comes from their family name
  9. Insisting on people using the full form of your name can seem unfriendly
  10. A French family name often means an aristocratic background
  11. Mohammed is one of the most popular boys’ names
  12. Because the language has tones, it is very easy to accidentally change someone’s name into an insult by mispronouncing it
  13. People are often given Western names in their school English classes, and often continue using them when they interact with foreigners when they grow up
  14. It is bad luck to write someone’s name in red ink
  15. 45% percent of people in the country have the same three family names
  16. Most people are named after a Saint, and that person’s Saint’s Day is more important than their birthday
  17. Most people take both their mother’s surname and father’s surname
  18. Short versions of first names can often be unrecognisable, e.g. Pepe for Jose
  19. Until recently, all baby names had to be from the bible or the names of saints
  20. People are usually given negative nicknames like “Chicken” or “Little” when they are born to avoid the attention of evil spirits, and those names are often used in adulthood too.
  21. Women take their mother’s name as a surname.
  22. A word meaning “of” (such as “de” or “Von”) often means an aristocratic background

What other countries might they be true for?

The list is divided into sections by country or region. Which country do these groups of numbers refer to?










The names in each item in the following list are related to each other in some way, e.g. refer to things in the vocabulary and/ or cultural differences sections above. What is the connection each time?

  1. Smith, Potter, Cooper, Mason, Taylor or Tailor, Webb or Weaver, Thatcher, Tyler (from tiler), Slater, Miller, Baker, Cook, Fisher, Shepherd, Carter, Clark or Clarke (from clerk), Skinner, Gardener, Fowler, Waterman, Wheeler, Hooper, Sawyer, Turner, Roper, Hawker, Brewer, Faulkner (from falconer), Walker, Bowyer, Archer, Wright, Cartwright, Foster (from forester), Parker, Coward (from cowherd)
  2. Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Carlos the Jackal, Pol Pot
  3. Robinson, Williamson, Benson, Stevenson, Dickson, Robertson, Richardson, Jackson, Wilson, Johnson, Watson. MacDonald, O’Leary
  4. Heath, Wood, Woods, Green, Hill, Brooke, Bush
  5. David Lloyd George, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Shaun Wright-Philips, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Camilla Parker-Bowles
  6. Little, Small, Strong, Armstrong, Longman, Swift, Steptoe, Wilde, Wise, Young, Black
  7. Rex, Max, Buddy, Rocky, Jake, Cody, Buster, Duke, Lucky, Rusty, Shadow, Gizmo, Bentley, Zeus, Samson, Sparky, Boomer
  8. Deng Xiaoping, Hu Jintao, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-shek, Chow Yun-Fat, Yao Ming, Confucius
  9. Senhor, monsieur, Herr, senorita, mademoiselle, Madame, senora, -san
  10. mate, my son, love, dear, whatisname
  11. Kim, Sam, Gabriel, Alex, Sam, Chris, Pat
  12. Lily, Daisy, Poppy, Rosemary, Flora, Heather, Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Violet
  13. Michael and Michelle; Alexander, Alexandra and Alexis; Joe and Jo; Frances and Francis; Carl and Carla, Eric and Erica, Gerald and Geraldine, George and Georgina, Henry and Henrietta, Joseph and Josephine, Martin and Martina, Paul and Paula, Victor and Victoria, Julian and Julia, Oliver and Olive, Louis and Louise, John and Jean, Billy and Billie, Tony and Toni, Terry and Teri
  14. Wally, Willy, Jon, Randy, Fanny, Dick, John Thomas, Bottom, Pratt
  15. Kit, Guy, Art, Clay, Buck, Cliff, Drew, Rod, Stew, Chip, Wade, Will, Rich, Grant, Dean, Lance, Norm, Bud, Pat, Rob, Gene, Ray, Earl, Bill, Chuck, Frank, Dale, Curt, Don, Glen, Walter, Willie, Albert, Harold, Raymond
  16. Margaret, Dorothy, Mildred, Frances, Florence, Lillian, Rose, Ethel, Evelyn, Edna, Gladys
  17. Lewis Caroll, George Eliot, Yukio Mishima, Natsume Soseki, George Orwell, Pablo Neruda, Mark Twain
  18. Joseph, Paul, Saul, Aaron, Abraham, Adam, Amos, Andrew, Benjamin, Daniel, David, Isaac, Jacob, Jonathon, Joshua, Jude, Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, Samuel
  19. Bill, Will, Willy, Billy, Willie
  20. Bob, Bobby, Rob, Robbie
  21. Dick, Rich, Richie
  22. Beth, Liz, Betty, Lizzie, Bess, Lilly
  23. Kate, Katie, Cathy, Cath
  24. Lex, Alex, Alec, Sandy
  25. Al, Fred, Alf, Alfie, Freddie
  26. Mary, Abigail, Anna, Martha, Deborah, Esther, Eve, Hannah, Judith, Lydia, Naomi, Rachel, Ruth, Sarah, Sharon, Susanna


Answer key 

1–4: Japan

5-11: UK

12: China

13-15: South Korea

16-18: Spain

19: Portugal

20: Thailand

21: Iceland

22: Many European countries

  1. Family names which are based on jobs
  2. Noms de guerre
  3. Names that mean “son of…”
  4. Family names that come from geographical features
  5. Famous people with double-barrelled surnames
  6. Family names that are based on appearance
  7. Popular names for dogs
  8. English versions of names of famous Chinese people
  9. Titles from various languages that English-speakers also commonly use when talking to people from those countries
  10. Ways of avoiding names
  11. Unisex names
  12. Women’s names based on flowers
  13. Pairs of male and female names
  14. Names that also have rude meanings
  15. Men’s names that used to be more popular
  16. Women’s names that used to be more popular
  17. Famous pen names
  18. Male biblical names
  19. Short forms of William
  20. Short forms of Robert
  21. Short forms of Richard
  22. Short forms of Elizabeth
  23. Short forms of Catherine
  24. Short forms of Alexander
  25. Short forms of Alfred
  26. Female biblical names

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