In applications and registration forms I usually see only 'last name'.

Is there any difference in uses between last name and surname?


2 Answers 2


Well, in North America and many other parts of the world, they are very often used as synonyms.

From Cambridge, "surname" is

the name that you share with other members of your family; last name

and "last name" is

your family name, which in English comes after other names you are given

Confusion arises when in some countries or regions, the family name or the surname actually sits in front of the given name. Then the surname or the family name becomes the "first" name and the given name becomes the "last" name. Many people get confused with "first" and "last" positions.

In ELU, a user writes

"Surname and last name both imply position, assuming a construct of "given name, family name". This doesn't work in countries that reverse this to "family name, given name", like China. Using "family name" and "given name" avoids the confusion of having last names first and first names last." in Surname, family name and last name

Another user states

"... last name is distinctly American usage, while surname is arguably British/Commonwealth usage" in “Last Name” and “surname”.


In the United States and Canada, the most common tradition is that the literal "last name" and (father's father's father's …) family name are one-and-the-same. Sometimes the mother's (father's father's …) family name is used as a penultimate name, in either of two ways. It can be the "middle name" bestowed on an infant. Or, a married woman might choose to append her husband's last name as her new last name instead of having her husband's last name replace her old last name.

Whereas in Latin America, it is common for the father's family name to be the penultimate name, and the mother's family name to be the literal "last name". Many Latin Americans who immigrate to the United States continue this tradition.

  • 1
    Good thing you pointed out the issue with changing last names after marriage. If a married woman does change her original family name for her husband's last name, her old last name then is called "maiden name" - many banks use a customer's mother's maiden name as a security question/answer measure.
    – AIQ
    Oct 2, 2019 at 21:20

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