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I understand that in a long list of names that searching typing in last name first makes it easier to filter but all over the web, I see tables where names are listed as "Last Name, First Name" format (even if filtering is not involved) and wanted to see if there were other reasons why this format is seen. Even at the top of alot of websites where it shows you logged in, I see sites that list you as "Last Name, First Name" and in that case, there are no other names.

I would have thought showing First Last in these places looks more natural so wanted to get some insight from this community.

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2 Answers

By default, a majority of applications use this format, especially when dealing with a high number of contacts such as within Salesforce. This is mainly due to how broad a first name can be compared to a last name. Searching for a contact by a last name, you're likely to have fewer results thus easily finding that specific contact.

For example, say you have 25 John's in your contacts list then you scroll to the "J" category. Having the first name displaying first requires the user to look over to the right of it to view their last name and make sure it's the correct contact. Having the Last name show first is easier to process for the user given that a last name is not potentially as common as a first name.

It is however, good practice to provide the user with the control to change this via filtering from Last/First to First/Last

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With regard to forms, like login prompts, I don’t know the answer, but I’m guessing QWERTY. That is to say, it’s a hold-over from an earlier era for reasons that are obsolete now, but it has become such a de facto standard that users expect it. For many decades, if not hundreds of years, forms were sorted and filed alphabetically by last name (surname). I don’t know why, but maybe knowing the last name narrows the possibilities more than knowing the first (given) name. Or maybe family relations were considered important, so they wanted family members sorted next to family members. Or maybe it was because in those days last name was consider the appropriate form of address in business relations (as in "Dear Mr. Washington:" not today's "Welcome back, George.")

Whatever the case, when forms were strictly paper, the same form that someone filled out is the same physical form a clerk would file, retrieve, and sort. Thus, I speculate, the last name appeared first at the top of the form in order to facilitate the clerk’s work. It’s “clerk-centered design.”

Today there’s no reason for this since the clerk can have a different UI than the form-filler. Indeed, for login and addressing deliveries (such as in ecommerce), first name first makes more sense since that’s how we usually write our names, including for addressing mail. Of course, there’s really no need for separate first and last name text boxes for such purposes either.

In fact for addressing deliveries, it would probably be easiest for the user to have a single free-form multi-line text box for name and address combined. Users hand-address letters all the time, and the mail gets to its destinations. A free-form text field would go a long way to accommodating variations in names and addresses (e.g., for internationalization). If the marketing wants details about the form-filler, let them write an algorithm to extract surname or zip code or whatever from the free-form field. Don’t make it a problem for the user.

But we have different fields in certain orders, because that’s traditional, and users expect it, so why change?

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While you are right that switching to one free-form fullname field may cause trouble with i18n (i.e. with cultures traditionally naming the family name first), it would at least save the non-US rest of the world from that misterious "middle initial" field :) –  Hagen von Eitzen Jan 12 at 19:49
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