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I learned most of my British English as a lad of thirteen in 1968–69 and one of twenty in 1975–76, during which (academic) years I lived in Sussex. As a Yank (I think that at least is still a current usage, at least in schoolboy register), I then had to get used to the term Christian name for what I had always called simply my first name. As I approach my first visit to England in some sixteen years, I wonder if it is time to unlearn that lesson, what with the new London mayor and all. Does this usage garner odd looks in today’s more multicultural England? Will it perhaps mark the user as a UKIP (or, by transatlantic extension, Trump) sympathiser?

Ngram suggests decline since 1968 but by no means to the point of vanishing. I can find no previous EL&U question on this, though there is some relevant discussion here.

  • It would seem that way books.google.com/ngrams/… – Matt May 11 '16 at 17:43
  • I certainly use the term Christian name, in referring to myself. And I believe many people of Anglo, European, or Caribbean descent (esp if they were over 50) would use it, irrespective of whether they were churchgoers or atheists. But when it comes to Asian people, were I asking for their name, I might use given name. I wouldn't use first name and last name and I despair of it on forms. In many traditions, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabic etc the family name goes first. So it can be very confusing. If we are going to standardise let's do it using given name and family name. – WS2 May 11 '16 at 17:57
  • A lot of overseas Chinese (my wife is one), will adopt a western name in addition to their Chinese name. Especially this will be the case if they are Christian. Their "western" name will be their baptismal name - in the case of Roman Catholics, often a saint's name. So their passport identification will probably say Michael Anthony Wong, also known as Wong Xi-Ping. – WS2 May 11 '16 at 18:02
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    Note that ngram results are not necessarily reliable. While its pre-20th-century corpus includes a lot of sermons, its more recent corpus includes an abundance of scientific literature. This would clearly affect how it registers a term like "Christian name" without telling us anything at all about how often everyday people use it. It is even possible that, in nonscientific lit, it is getting used more. (I'm not saying that it is, but, as far as one can glean from ngram, that is a real possibility.) – user66965 May 11 '16 at 18:34
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    As an aside, the implied equivalence between Trump and UKIP is pretty questionable, to say the least. – peterG May 12 '16 at 0:13
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The decrease in usage of the expression "Christian name" may be a reflection of the cultural changes that happen through time. It, however, didn't necessarily refer to religion, according to the following extract:

  • Traditionally, a christian name or baptismal name is a personal name given on the occasion of Christian baptism, with the ubiquity of infant baptism in medieval Christendom. In Elizabethan England, as suggested by Camden, the term christian name was not necessarily related to baptism, used merely in the sense of "given name":

    • "Christian names were imposed for the distinction of persons, surnames for the difference of families."
  • In more modern times, the terms have been used interchangeably with given name, first name and forename in traditionally Christian countries, and are still common in day-to-day use, although today, the secular term 'first name' is considerably the most common.

(Wikipedia)

Usage notes:

From The AHD:

  • Because it presupposes that an entire society is Christian, the term Christian name when used generically can be taken as offensive in diverse societies. Writers seeking a way to avoid this problem can use first name or forename instead.

From The Collins Dictionary:

  • Christian name was often loosely used to mean any person's first name as distinct from his or her surname. Nowadays, especially in official documents, alternatives which do not refer to a particular faith, and are therefore more inclusive, are often used: first name, forename, and given name.
  • What about people who originate from places where the family name goes first? What was Mao Tse-Tung's "first name"? – WS2 May 11 '16 at 18:54
  • @WS2 - you want my personal view on this? – user66974 May 11 '16 at 18:59
  • His first name was his familiy name: Mao. But someone asking for the first name likely means the part that isn't the family name. – gnasher729 May 11 '16 at 19:41
  • @gnasher729 Which rather proves my point. The use of the terms first name and last name is just as problematic as Christian name. – WS2 May 11 '16 at 19:59
  • @Josh61 My only point Josh is that which I have made in my comment to gnasher729, which is contrary to your quotation from Collins.I do not accept that first name is much more inclusive than Christian name. But your opinion would be of interest. – WS2 May 11 '16 at 20:05
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I'm a Brit in my late 40s, so heading towards that bah, in my day... old fogey demographic that you mention (perish the thought).

I sometimes use "Christian name" out of sheer habit, but my (somewhat large) irreligious streak would prefer to use "forename" if my brain manages to engage quickly enough to overtake my mouth. "First name" is how it's increasingly used on official forms, however, such as Government documents - I just checked my self-assessment return, and it's clearly labelled First Name/Middle Name/Last Name.

As for "Yank" - yeah, that'll work, though you can also use 'merkin or left-ponder if you want to confuse people :)

  • Because merkin means pubic wig, any use of that will have a particular, possibly undesirable, flavor. – JEL May 11 '16 at 19:36
  • {whistles innocently} – Prof Yaffle May 11 '16 at 19:58

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