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Is it better to ask for both first and last name from user, or a generic "display name" field? Which do users respond to better, and are there any downsides for either?

In our case, we are allow both individuals and companies to sign up for our site, and therefore have to decide between alternating text fields and entire tables depending on which signed up, or simply providing a generic field for all to enter their display name.

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Never ask for First/Last names - not everyone puts the name of the family last, that's a Western conceit. Ask for Given/Family names if you must, but asking for FullName/Family/KnownAs is better. More info in my answer here: stackoverflow.com/questions/259634/… –  Bevan Sep 26 '11 at 17:57
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you can have both people and companies I'd go with "Display Name" which can be anything.

You can then have optional fields "Real Name" for a person and "Contact Name" for a company (i.e. the person who you'd speak to about the account. These could be the same field but labelled differently for each type of account.

You can then choose to display the real name or not.

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It depends a lot on the circumstances; however the best article I've seen on this topic is on the W3 site at http://www.w3.org/International/questions/qa-personal-names#singlefield. The complete article is an interesting introduction to names even if you don't have this problem to solve!

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I wish I could upvote this more than once. Very important information not only for apps with an international audience. After all single countries can and do have citizens/inhabitants of many different cultures. –  Marjan Venema Sep 24 '11 at 9:52
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Only show first and last names if you HAVE to have that information. A single display name is better for the user (less noise, fewer choices).

If you are recording first and last name, a single textbox won't get the job done.

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