I came across an issue on how to format and display a person's name when used in a specific context. I understand that it might vary depending on specific countries and languages but how important is it to say, for example, View John's Profile vs View John Smith's Profile? Is one better in a professional vs personal setting? or should it matter at all?

  • In the specific example you gave, you could put "View Your Profile". To answer the specific question, full name is more formal.
    – Stephen
    Dec 19, 2014 at 15:19

3 Answers 3


Falsehoods Programmers Believe about Names

I don't want to completely derail your question, but I think it's important to realize that your question makes sense only in a very specific use case and a rather small cultural circle.

Based on that, the general solution I would think makes sense (though I've never seen it in the wild):

How should we address you on this site?   [Beo Wulff__________]

How should we address you in a letter?    [Dear Beo Wulff,____]

How should we address letters to you?     [            ]
                                          [            ]

Another general rule I'd want to bring up is "don't construct sentences".

The little 's in your example is already wrong for some names in English. Furthermore, it's hurting localization: the rules how a name changes depending on their position in a sentence are complex and best avoided. Make the elemenst separate in the user interface

    John Smith    View Profile | Send Letter

To at least attempt to answer your original question:

"full name" is the safest bet. Even between countries where "first name" and "last name" are a thing, the social rules how to address someone vary subtley.

The internet has been a great equalizer here, but the differences still exist.

  • If I had more than one up-vote to give… ;-)
    – user597
    Dec 19, 2014 at 10:16

The first name bases is often used when communicating a message to your user such as 'Hi John, how are you?' For the person using their own account you can use 'View my profile'. If a 3rd party is viewing John Smith's account I would stick to name and surname.

Linkedin uses full name and surname for such things and it is usually the best name. The name and surname are also accompanied by a profile photo.


Disclaimer: In this answer, I'm using "First name" to meen given name and "Last name" to mean surname. This designation will not be accurate for all cases.

I think there are two things to consider in this question:

  1. Persons reaction to their own name

    The trickiest issue here is obviously cross-cultural.
    I think that when I address a person of a different culture, I try to use a mix of their own culture, and an "international" (i.e. European/American) standard. Furthermore, I would assume the addressee does the same. They will not try to enforce their own "naming policy" to the entire international community, but still would not like to comply completely as to corrupt their own name.

    The best way to hit this globalized sweet-spot is to just let the addressee choose how they should be addressed. This could be done by guessing (say according to country of origin, language, etc.) or by having an actual element for selecting - rearranging, deleting and adding various name elements to form the correct way.

    Just a note, I think Facebook has left this unsolved. Your "first name" appears first, and "Last name" second. You do have a free-text field to add to your name, but the canonical Facebook name is the "western"-style one. I happen to have some Chinese friends on Facebook and this does cause some serious identity problems for them :)
    (in Chinese culture, a person is called by their last name, followed by first name.)
  2. Identifying who you're addressing in a long list

    First names don't vary so much (a lot less than first name-last name combos).
    Faced with the option to "View John's profile" I would surely ask myself "Wait, John who?"
    This becomes more troublesome when the first name you're displaying is that persons actual last name, which varies even less (not sure about this, actually). Or, when a last name from this culture is identical to a first name from that culture and I'm not sure who I'm looking at.
    If identify-ability is a problem here, definitely use the more unique first name-last name combo.
  • Re an "international" (i.e. European/American) standard. There are vast social differences between say French culture and American Culture. And countries of Europe vary widely.
    – PhillipW
    Dec 19, 2014 at 14:41
  • @PhillipW I understand. However I think there still is an acceptable international standard, which works best for people with American/British/Scandinavian/French(?) names.
    – Navot
    Dec 19, 2014 at 15:01

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