First name, middle name, and last name arrangements when filling out a form


Here is an article that teaches you how to arrange your first name, middle name, and last name when filling out forms.

Your first name is your personal, given, or Christian name. It is the name chosen for a child, usually by the child’s parents. It is also called forename. Your middle name is your name which comes between your first name and last name. Most persons don’t have middle names; they only have their first names and last names. Your last name is your family name or surname. Maiden name is the previous name of a married woman before she took the name of her husband.


How often have you come across forms that require you to enter your first name, middle initial, and last name? In the rest of the world, and to some extent in the USA, they may not work. The reason is that there are 2, not 3, major components to people’s names:

1. Given names: these are the names given to children by their parents (or, rarely, are changed by the children).

2. Family names (otherwise known as surnames)- these are the names passed down from generation to generation (except in Iceland).

It is not enough bearing your name. It is also important you know how to arrange it when filling out a form, especially a form that does not provide columns for first name, middle name, and last name but just name. Some persons have been denied scholarships, jobs, visas, and in most cases, had their certificates reprinted because their middle names were mistaken for their surnames, and vice versa. Those with just two names usually do not have this problem as compared to those with more than two names. With that said, let’s look at the following full name and two ways the individual names can be arranged:

  1. First name: Tammy
  2. Middle name– Donald
  3. Last name/Surname– Reuben
  • First order:  Tammy Donald Reuben
  • Second order– Reuben, Tammy Donald

The first order is straightforward and very common. In this order, you write your first name, followed by your middle name and last name/surname.

Other Examples of name arrangements

Example 1– Mary Elizabeth Smith has two given names and one family name. If she calls herself Mary, then she has a first name, can use a middle initial, and has no problem with the forms.

Example 2– Supposing, however, that she has been called Elizabeth (Liz for short) since birth. Then, her name won’t fit the standard forms. Neither will that of J. Edgar Hoover (a former FBI director) and many others. You can believe that Liz would not want to have to answer to the name Mary just because someone designed a form that records only her first name and middle initial.


Example 3– Liz Smith marries someone called Jim Brown. She may call herself Elizabeth Smith, or change her name to Elizabeth Brown, or Elizabeth Smith Brown. Her name Mary still is first, but she hardly ever uses it. So, what is now her “middle initial”?

Example 4– Ada María Guerrero Pérez is Mexican. Her names (nombres) are Ada María (and she always uses both these names), her primer apellido (father’s family name) is Guerrero and her segundo apellido (mother’s family name) is Pérez. You would find her in a Mexican phone book under “Guerrero Pérez, Ada María.” She calls herself Ada María Guerrero. So what should she do when she encounters a US form asking for her “first name, middle initial, and last name”?

Example 5– Ada María marries someone called Alfonso Ernesto Hernández López. He has two given names (and uses the second of these), and two family names (Hernández and López). You find him in a Mexican telephone book under “Hernández López, Ernesto.” He calls himself Ernesto Hernández. How does he respond to a US form asking for first name, middle initial, and last name?

Example 6– Ada María has new problems with US forms- after her marriage she is Ada María Guerrero de Hernández. So now how does she respond to a US form asking for first name, middle initial, and last name?


Example 7– Li Xiao Ping is from China. In China, Japan, Vietnam, Hungary, and some other countries, the family name (Li) comes first. The two components (Xiao Ping) of his given name are used together as one name such that they could almost be written Xiaoping. You find him in a Chinese phone book as Li Xiao Ping (written in 3 Chinese characters with no comma). How should he respond to a US form asking for first name, middle initial, and last name? Which of his names is last?

The design of US forms asking for “first name, middle initial, and the last name” is for the convenience of US designers of forms. It assumes ignorantly that everyone’s name fits this mold, or imperiously that everyone’s name must be forced into this mold. It would be more appropriate to design forms to ask for (a) given names, and (b) family names, and then (c) underline the given name and family name by which you wish to be known.

Unlike the first order, the second order is mostly used for citations although we can still write our names in this order. And this is why it deserves more attention. When writing your name in this order, your last name/surname comes first, and you must use a comma to separate it from the others. Then the first name follows; followed by the middle name (as illustrated above).

Always ensure that your name is spelled correctly and arranged in the right order. A misspelled name, by law and logic, is not you.

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