In Dutch (and other languages) people have have different types of first names. First, there is the Christian name or given name, which is the official name of a person and is used for official documents etc. Then there is the first name that is used on a regular basis. The literal translation of the Dutch word for that is 'calling name' (roepnaam). Finally there is the nickname that close friends and family use.

My sister's name is a typical example. Her given name ('birth name' in Dutch) is 'Elisa Hermina', the name used by everybody, however, is 'Lisette' and the name used by family and close friends is 'Jet'. They could of course also be the same.

For an English paper I am writing, I need to distingish between the names. Which words could I best use for each of the names?

I know 'calling name' is also used in english and also seems to have a similar meaning. Does it indeed have exactly the same meaning a the dutch roepnaam?

  • See also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_name. It might be what you were looking for. Jul 4, 2014 at 16:05
  • @DamkerngT. Thanks. The fact that that article uses the German term Rufname again seems to be a demonstration that there is not a clear English term for that. Jul 4, 2014 at 20:11
  • I guess so. However, I think what's interesting is that I found the page via "call name", not "called name" nor "calling name". This reminds me of another word in English, "call sign". Jul 4, 2014 at 20:51

6 Answers 6


There are fewer differentiating terms in (at least British) English. Nowadays Christian name is used less because of the religious diversity that prevails. First name or forename is used instead. A person's second name (Hermina in your example) is referred to as a middle name. In British English, the last name (i.e. Smith) is referred to as either the last name or the surname.

Little differentiation is made between a full first name (e.g. Elisa) and a less formal or shortened name that a person might use every day (e.g. Lisette or Jet).

Nickname refers more often to a name completely unrelated to the actual name of the person, e.g. someone tall being called 'Stretch'.

I have never heard 'calling name' being used in British English.


Oddly, we have no widely accepted term for the short form by which a person is most widely referred to in conversation.

  • Hypocoristic is generally used only of names employed to express affection. It appears that ‘Jet’ in your example is a hypocoristic.
  • By-name is often encountered in academic works as a ‘generic’ term, but it usually excludes
    • ordinary use of the forename or middle name
    • “standard” derivatives of a formal name, such as ‘Jack’ for ‘John’ or ‘Mac’ for a person surnamed ‘Mac-something’ or, in your example, ‘Lisette’ for ‘Elisa’.
  • Nickname is often used with very broad significance in ordinary speech; but it excludes ordinary use of the forename or middle name.
  • Calling name is used by some onomasticians. However, its widest currency today seems to be among providers of telephone services to designate the name which is displayed on your telephone to identify the caller.

I don't think any of these is quite suited to your need. I suggest instead a term which seems to have been invented by Le Guin for her Earthsea tales: use-name. Le Guin draws on the anthropological distinction between public and secret names, and in her works the use-name is contrasted with the true name in which magical identity resides; but I see no reason why you should not appropriate the term for your own purposes.

  • I like the term use-name. Now convince the other authors. ... and +1 for it being from Le Guin. Jul 4, 2014 at 20:14
  • Use-name is an interesting and useful way to put it, but as it isn't in common English usage you would have to be sure to explain the idea in your paper. Aug 15, 2014 at 20:07
  • What about "given name"?
    – None
    Dec 22, 2014 at 7:22
  • @Laure 'Given' name is equivalent to 'first name' or older 'Christian name': it is the part of your name which is given rather than inherited like the last name. Dec 22, 2014 at 12:35

There probably isn't an exact English translation of the concept, as names are used differently across cultures.

Your formal name, excluding the family name / surname portion, is called your given name(s) or first name (more American) or Christian name (British and antiquated).

Any unofficial name could be called a nickname. This could either be a shortened form (e.g. "Chris" instead of "Christopher") or anything invented (e.g. "Magic Johnson"). In formal contexts, such as police records, such alternate names might be called aliases.

In very familiar circles (within a family, or between spouses), you might also have a pet name. It may be something embarrassing that you would never want to be used in public — perhaps a baby's mispronunciation that stuck.

As a special case, actors may have screen names, and authors may have pen names.

  • 1
    In Seattle, some homeless people have "street names", which are similar to noms de guerre or the original poster's "calling names". "Street names" are similar to "screen names" and "pen names" in that they are used for professional purposes; "street names" are different in that most of a homeless person's acquaintances are likely to know him (or her) by the "street name".
    – Jasper
    Aug 15, 2014 at 20:48

There are many types of names right from a calling name that we use generally to nickname or byname that is shortened version or a name that our family or friends call us by. Also, there's something called alias which means a temporary or alternate name (especially of criminals and actors).

I could not find anything better than this here.

  • Thanks. From that list 'calling name' is missing, which makes me wonder how common and well known 'calling name' is. Jul 4, 2014 at 13:08
  • 1
    @JanvanderLaan Wikitionary defines it: The name by which a person is normally identified in conversation. Also, I think real name works better for that reason. And it's common as well.
    – Maulik V
    Jul 4, 2014 at 13:13
  • In the theatre (at least in the US) we call the name under which an actor works his or her stage name, never alias. My screen name here at SE is based on my stage name. Jul 4, 2014 at 15:41
  • In India, it's typically for the movie actors. Akshay kumar, Dilip kumar, Madhubala, Jeetendra to name a few.
    – Maulik V
    Jul 4, 2014 at 18:03
  • @MaulikV An Anglo-American actor will not be offended if you refer to her alias -we've been called a lot worse over the centuries! But he will write you off as hopelessly provincial. Jul 5, 2014 at 3:41

In the US, some forms (such as school forms) have a field asking for "preferred name" which would be the daily name, such as Lisette in your example. When we introduce ourselves in a formal setting such as school or work, we often say something like, "My name is Elisa, but I go by Lisette." The fact that we use "go by" lines up with other posters' intuition that there is no real single word for this in English.


The term usually used in British English is 'short name' meaning the name by which you are known, rather than your 'official name' which is your legal name. It means that there is the odd situation where someone's short name is actually longer than their 'real' or 'official' name, such as Johnny 'short' for John or Shuggie 'short' for Hugh.

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