British Culture


Primary Author
Nina Evason,

Naming Conventions

  • British English naming conventions arrange names as follows: [first given name] [middle given name(s)] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Jack Samuel ADAMS (male) or Emily Claire TAYLOR (female).
  • One’s ‘first name’, known as a ‘personal name’ or ‘given name’, is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes before the family name. 
  • The ‘family name’, known as a ‘surname’ or ‘last name’, is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s
  • British names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children are given their father’s family name. However, this is not an enforced custom. 
  • Some parents may choose to give their children a hyphenated surname that contains the family name of both the mother and father (e.g. Jack Samuel ADAMS-BROWN). 
  • It is traditional for women to adopt their husband’s family name at marriage. However, this practice is declining and less of a cultural requirement. 
  • Many British also have a ‘middle name’, which is a secondary given name written between the person's first name and their family name. For example, Emily Claire TAYLOR’s middle name is ‘Claire’.
  • Middle names are optional and are rarely used in daily life. However, most British have one or multiple.


  • Most British parents choose their children’s personal names based on aesthetic appeal.
  • Many traditional or common first names are based on Biblical names such as ‘Zacharias’, or names for religious principles such as ‘Grace’. 
  • In more recent times, many British will often choose names for their children that sound nice or are influenced by popular culture.
  • It has also become more common for younger parents to use shortened versions of traditional male names (e.g. ‘Freddie’ instead of ‘Frederich’, ‘Archie’ instead of ‘Archibald’).
  • Many of the most common British names are also traditionally ‘royal’ names used by the British monarchy, e.g. Henry, Edward, Charlotte, Anne.
  • As of 2019, the most popular first names in England and Wales were Olivia, Amelia, Isla, Ava Mia (female) and Oliver, George, Noah, Arthur, Harry (male).1
  • It is common for a child’s middle name to reflect the personal name of a close family member (such as a grandparent).
  • The most common British family names often have an old English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish origin, e.g. SMITH, JONES, WILLIAMS, TAYLOR, DAVIES.2
  • Many traditional British surnames reflect old occupational names, e.g. SMITH (blacksmith), TAYLOR (tailor), BAKER.3

Addressing Others

  • The British generally address one another verbally by the first name alone. 
  • In formal situations, people may use a person’s title (e.g. Mr., Mrs., Ms., Doctor, etc.) followed by their family name.
  • Middle names are almost never used to address a person, unless quoted on formal/legal documentation.


1 Office For National Statistics, 2020
2 Embury-Dennis, 2016
3 Embury-Dennis, 2016

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