I know this much: Your first and last names are considered a collective noun. But I don't know why that is.

One site defines collective nouns like this:

Collective nouns are names for a collection or a number of people or things. Words like group, herd, and array are collective noun examples.

So, my question is, shouldn't this mean that a collective noun is one name for many things instead of many names for one thing? If it does have this sense, then your first and last names isn't a collective noun, is it?

Or is there another explanation for villainizing the introduction "My names are..."?

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    Why do you say that your first and last names are considered a collective noun? Where does that come from?
    – tchrist
    Sep 6, 2016 at 14:48
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    A name is a funny thing, in that it can be made up of several names. We don't usually say that our body is made up of several bodies (they're body parts), or that our address is made up of several addresses (they don't really have a name, just ‘road’, ‘number’, ’town’, etc.); but we do say that our name is made up of names. There are other things that work like this, though: a family (often) consists of several individual families; but if you have 37 cousins we still say that you have a big family, not that you have *big families. Sep 6, 2016 at 15:42
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    A person's name is the full collection of words used to address them. It is treated exactly like a book's title, it can be composed of multiple words, but is treated as a single entity. For example: The title of my favorite book by Kurt Vonnegut is Breakfast of Champions. Sep 6, 2016 at 17:27
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    My names are MonkeyZeus and Cinnamon; day job and Tuesday nights respectively ;-)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 6, 2016 at 18:20
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    There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying "My names are xxx" from the standpoint of English syntax and semantics. What's "wrong" is simply that the convention is to say "My name is xxx", treating your name, regardless of the number of parts, as a single conceptual entity. One way to view it is that, in "John M Smith", "John" and "M" are (conceptually) adjectives on the noun "Smith".
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 7, 2016 at 0:48

3 Answers 3


I know so much: Your first and last names are considered a collective noun. But I don't know why that is.

First and last names together do not make a collective noun; they make a compound noun.

A noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. When a name, whether it is a person, building, or organization, or something else, points to a particular person, building, etc., it is called a proper noun. Some proper nouns are only one word: Mike, Albert, Snickers, Pepsi, etc. Sometimes two word or more words can be joined together to form a compound noun. There are rules for how they are joined together, which is another topic, but here are several compound nouns (remember they act together to make ONE noun): prizefighter, beach ball, newsstand, news room, sister-in-law.

When a compound noun is a proper noun, it too is still considered one noun, even if it spans multiple words.

John Smith

John is in his office.

Mr. Smith is not in his office today.

John Smith is back in his office.

Mexico City is in Mexico. The Metropolitan Opera House is in New York. We have terrible news; the George Washington Elementary School has lost its credentials and will be closed down by the city.

Sometimes a person will go by an 'alias' which is like a fake name, a substitute name, used instead of the person's real name.

: otherwise known as --Webster's. alias. adv.

So, here you can use "are." My names are Wilbert Brown, Martin Thomas, and Andrew Welch. My real name is Wilbert Brown. Martin Thomas is my "pen" name I use in writing fiction novels, and Andrew Welch is a business name I use occasionally.

This is a real good explanation of how 'collective' nouns can be singular or plural:


Compound noun:


  • That must be it--a compound noun! Thanks, Arch.
    – user191110
    Sep 6, 2016 at 17:07
  • Whether it is a proper noun or not, a compound noun often is not just one word. In many cases it is singular, however, which is an entirely different thing. A compound noun as a subject takes the singular form of its verb if the thing it designates is singular, as in your examples. Compare, however, the "St. Louis Cardinals" -- a compound, proper, plural noun.
    – PellMel
    Sep 7, 2016 at 17:41

There is no convention for saying My names are John Smith.

Why that is, I have no idea - the reasons are lost in the mists of time.But it would be quite non-idiomatic.

However, if you have both a name and a nom de plume, you could say My names are Eric Blair and George Orwell.

If someone tells you they are John Smith, and you need any further middle names they may have, you could say any one of the following:

Is that your full name? Do you have a middle name? Do you have any other Christian names.

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    Regarding, "My names are John Smith." Wouldn't that more likely become "My names are John and Smith." which would potentially be grammatical and likely understood if... stilted.
    – Vality
    Sep 6, 2016 at 19:57
  • @Vality Said in that way, yes it is idiomatic. But it is an unusual thing to say, unless you are explaining the Western naming convention to an unlikely person who was not familiar with such things!
    – WS2
    Sep 6, 2016 at 20:13
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    You could also say things like "My names all have seven letters" or "My names all begin with A".
    – Vicky
    Sep 7, 2016 at 8:26
  • @Vicky Yes. Whether a person's full name is referred to in the singular or the plural is a matter of context. But the usual context calls for singularity.
    – WS2
    Sep 7, 2016 at 10:35
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    I don't know doesn't mean nobody knows.
    – Caleb
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:55

For the vast majority, a full name consists of two or more parts. A person's identity is not limited to their first name ( the secular version of christian name), when filling out official forms we also include any middle names we might have, and then our last name (also called surname or family name)

When someone asks: "What is your name?" they are usually referring to our first name, e.g. John; otherwise, they will ask: "What's your full name?"

The conventional reply is: "It's John Malcolm Smith". Sometimes, people have a double surname, also called a double-barreled name,a combination of their mother and father's last names: e.g. John Malcolm Fitzgerald-Smith.

I found a Wikipedia article which sums up nicely the situation.

A personal name or full name refers to the set of names by which an individual is known and that can be recited as a word-group, with the understanding that, taken together, they all relate to that one individual. (...)
In Western culture, nearly all individuals possess at least one given name (also known as a personal name, first name, forename, or Christian name), together with a surname (also known as a family name, last name, or gentile name)—respectively, the Thomas and Jefferson in Thomas Jefferson—the latter to indicate that the individual belongs to a family, a tribe, or a clan. Inserted between these are one or more "middle names" (e.g., Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles John Huffam Dickens, Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise Mountbatten-Windsor), further establishing such family and broader relationships.

If I said "My names are John Malcolm Thomas Fitzgerald Smith" it would sound as if I had two or more identities, or aliases.

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