In a western name, you usually have a first name, some number of middle names, and a surname (family name). What is the catch-all word for these components?

To give you context: I am writing a function that takes a name and removes unnecessary whitespace between the components, e.g. John Smith --> John Smith. I'm writing a comment to explain what the function does, but I can't settle on a good word for these components. Surely there is a word for this?

I know that all these components are technically "names", but in this context, writing "removes whitespace between names in a name" seems confusing at best. I've also thought about calling them "words", but again this seems misleading. My current top choice is "components", but this seems overly general.

  • maybe just dodge the problem and say "trims internal whitespace in name"
    – Slepz
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 22:22
  • @Slepz dodging the problem is a good suggestion, but now I'm curious. Surely there has to be some term for the components within a name?
    – Newb
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 22:24
  • 1
    This is a nice example (unless you have to find a solution, as you do) of the far-too-common problem of polysemy-with-hyponymy. A name consisting of two (or more) names. 'John Smith' is a binomial, but I've never seen 'mononomial' used outside algebra and biology. Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 22:27
  • 1
    I checked this onomastic glossary and some relevant Wikipedia articles, and no clear term stuck out. Some WP articles use element, the glossary qualifies all the different kinds of names with the suffix -nym, and I'm sure I've seen namepart before. So there's three options, at least: [name] elements, nameparts, or simply nyms. Or you could stretch things a bit and borrow a productive suffix from linguistic terminology and coin nymeme ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 22:28
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    'Full name' is the entire name. 'First name' 'middle name' and 'last name' or 'family name' are 'parts of the full name'. Why be filled with anxiety about not knowing a single hypernym when you can just describe it in two or more words? This isn't telegraphy which charges by the word.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


You may be overthinking this, applying too much attention to the category of words being manipulated (peoples' names) and neglecting that this is a commonly coded function with many other word strings. See, for example, this discussion on a sister site regarding this problem in a broader context. So, "remove unneeded spaces in word string" would be a general comment in the code for this function.

  • This answer is irrelevant to the question posed. Side-stepping the problem is obvious. I'm interested in an actual term to describe the components of names.
    – Newb
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 8:06
  • The question posed is an overly narrow focus on a problem with a widely recognized solution. My proposed answer is thus wholly relevant and a universal solution. It doesn't sidestep the problem; rather it places it in a well-recognized programming context. The much narrower question about the components of peoples' names is already widely known as, e.g., first, middle, last, etc. Why needlessly complicate a broader programming function with specifics unique to one set of word strings?
    – KWinker
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 8:24
  • The context I gave is really unimportant: again, I know how to solve the problem in this context. My question is about the English language, not about solving a minor programming problem. The narrower question about the components of peoples' names is actually not known: you resorted to enumerating "first, middle, last." That's exactly the issue: I'm asking for a single word that encompasses all these components. If you read the chain of comments on my original question, you'll find that namepart/nym/nymeme were well-received suggestions.
    – Newb
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 9:06
  • Sorry, I considered the context to be important. I read a lot of code and clear comments are the best and too rare. One focusing on a little-known term for a specific type of word string would be opaque to most. It still is a language problem, and the other options in the comments are of interest, too.
    – KWinker
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 18:14
  • You can consider the context important if you like, but then you are answering a question that is different from mine. My question is: "In a western name, you usually have a first name, some number of middle names, and a surname (family name). What is the catch-all word for these components?"
    – Newb
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 19:17

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