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Old 02-03-2010, 10:44 AM
cjepson cjepson is offline
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Famous historical figures known by their first names

This is the kind of weird thing I think about from time to time. Prior to Rome, it seems that most of the historical figures we know had only a single name (e.g., Archimedes). During the Roman era you get people with two names; I think they mostly tend to be known by their last name (e.g., Claudius Ptolemaus, known as Ptolemy). Then in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages there are a lot of single names again (e.g., Alcuin, Bede). Then since the Renaissance, it's mostly been two names again, and famous people have mostly been known by their last name (up until the past century or so, when some entertainers started to be known by their first name).

But from the Renaissance, we have a handful of famous people who are known by their first name, such as Michaelangelo, Galileo, and Rembrandt. I might also include Leonardo and Tycho, although nowadays they are often referred to by both of their names (but rarely by their last name alone).

Any other examples? People who had two names but are primarily known by the first, not the last? I'm excluding:

- Royalty, nobility, Popes, and the like, who traditionally take a single name
- People from other cultures where single names are common (e.g., Powhatan)
- Stage or pen names (e.g., Saki)

I would suggest limiting the time period to pre-1950, to avoid the Chers, Beyonces and Rihannas. It might also be simpler to stick to the Renaissance and beyond, because before that, things get blurry (like, is "Christ" a name or an honorific, and anyway, it's not a "surname" in the modern Western sense).

Also... how about the first modern entertainer to be known primarily by their first name (again, stage names excluded)? I think maybe Moe Howard (and that happened because he used his real first name, Moses, as his character name).
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  #2  
Old 02-03-2010, 11:28 AM
Gorsnak Gorsnak is offline
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Napoleon, though I believe his contemporaries more often referred to him as Bonaparte.
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:05 PM
BwanaBob BwanaBob is offline
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Che (as in Guavara). And Mao (tse-Tung).

Last edited by BwanaBob; 02-03-2010 at 12:06 PM..
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:16 PM
ErinPuff ErinPuff is offline
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Originally Posted by BwanaBob View Post
And Mao (tse-Tung).
"Mao" is his surname.
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:25 PM
cjepson cjepson is offline
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Originally Posted by Gorsnak View Post
Napoleon, though I believe his contemporaries more often referred to him as Bonaparte.
I was wondering about Napoleon. He was Emperor, so that puts him in the royalty category. However, for some reason, I have the feeling he would be known as Napoleon even if he hadn't become Emperor.
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:29 PM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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I know you said pre-1950, but I think it's worth mentioning Arnold Schwarzenegger since he is pretty well known as just "Arnold" (I think most people would probably think of him if they just heard that name, alone,) and he did not deliberately set out to make himself known by his first name like Prince or Beyonce did. He's just SO larger-than-life, and has such an uncommon first name, that it was easy for him to just become known as "Arnold."
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Old 02-03-2010, 12:50 PM
Annie-Xmas Annie-Xmas is offline
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Michaelangeo
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  #8  
Old 02-03-2010, 12:57 PM
silenus silenus is online now
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Dante

Rafael

Giotto

Last edited by silenus; 02-03-2010 at 12:58 PM..
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  #9  
Old 02-03-2010, 01:34 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Originally Posted by cjepson View Post
I was wondering about Napoleon. He was Emperor, so that puts him in the royalty category. However, for some reason, I have the feeling he would be known as Napoleon even if he hadn't become Emperor.
Probably not. As General and consul, he was usually Bonaparte. As Emperor, of course, he was Napoleon, and you could get in trouble for calling him anything else, since to do so was to deny his royal status.

After his fall, it became optional--if you liked him and believe his empire legitimate, you called him Napoleon. If you were partial to the restored Bourbons, or to the republic, and believed him a usurper, you called him Bonaparte (or worse yet, Buonaparte).

In time historians recognized that whether you liked him or not, he did in fact exercise power as emperor for 11 years, and thus Napoleon he remained. But if he had died in 1802, he'd be Bonaparte.
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Old 02-03-2010, 02:53 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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Hildegarde was a popular singer in the 30s and 40s. Her real name was Hildegarde Sell.

In entertainment, Fatty Arbuckle was known as "Fatty" in many of his films. His costar, Mabel Normand, was billed as Mabel (e.g., Mabel and Fatty's Married Life. Charlie Chaplin was billed in France simply as "Charlot," the diminutive of "Charles."

Though they used their last names, everyone knew who Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo were.
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Old 02-03-2010, 03:22 PM
Omar Little Omar Little is offline
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Surnames in Europe were not used until about the 12th century, and it took several centuries before most people had or used a surname. As the population of regions grew, the use of surnames was necessary to distinguish between two people with the same names. In the advent of surnames, they more commonly referred to lineage (e.g. Andrew son of John, or Andrew Johnson), occupation (e.g. Andrew the bridge builder, Andrew Bridger), or city of region of origin (e.g. Andrew from the hills, or Andrew Hill). Eventually surnames were passed down to children and so on.

Long way of saying, historically, almost everyone was known by their first name.
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Old 02-03-2010, 03:24 PM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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How about Ike? (You didn't exclude nicknames.)
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Old 02-03-2010, 03:25 PM
Giles Giles is offline
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Originally Posted by ErinPuff View Post
"Mao" is his surname.
It's also his first name -- surnames are first names in China, Japan and Korea. But perhaps the OP should have excluded cases where the first name is a surname.
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Old 02-03-2010, 08:29 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Che (as in Guavara).
His real name was Ernesto Guevara. Che was a nickname. It approximates as Bud.
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Old 02-03-2010, 08:34 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is online now
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Originally Posted by Beware of Doug View Post
How about Ike? (You didn't exclude nicknames.)
Tina had all the talent.
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Old 02-03-2010, 09:12 PM
Beware of Doug Beware of Doug is offline
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Tina had all the talent.
I was thinking Mamie's Ike, but ok.
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  #17  
Old 02-03-2010, 09:20 PM
Desert Nomad Desert Nomad is offline
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Not quite pre-1950, but close.

Joe

At least he is famous in the DPRK (North Korea). Joe Dresnok is an American defector who has acted in many DPRK films and is quite a local celebrity... going by the name "Arthur" to many. Everyone I met in Pyongyang had heard of or had met him.

Last edited by Desert Nomad; 02-03-2010 at 09:21 PM..
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  #18  
Old 02-04-2010, 12:47 AM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is offline
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Rob Roy (does it count if his middle name is also used?)

Last edited by Guinastasia; 02-04-2010 at 12:48 AM..
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Old 02-04-2010, 01:59 AM
kidneyfailure kidneyfailure is offline
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Originally Posted by Giles View Post
It's also his first name -- surnames are first names in China, Japan and Korea. But perhaps the OP should have excluded cases where the first name is a surname.
It's his "first name" in that it's the first character in his name, but it's functionally the same as his "last name," hence why he shared it with his siblings and most of his kids.
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  #20  
Old 02-04-2010, 04:07 AM
Nava Nava is online now
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Originally Posted by Wilbo523 View Post
Surnames in Europe were not used until about the 12th century, and it took several centuries before most people had or used a surname.
Which part of Europe would that be? Because I've been known to threaten people who claimed that family names didn't exist in Spain before the 10th century with throwing the Annals of Navarre at them... (the old version of my family's lastname appears in documents older than that and you can follow the process by which the current version came to be).
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Old 02-04-2010, 07:43 AM
dhkendall dhkendall is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cjepson View Post
I might also include Leonardo and Tycho, although nowadays they are often referred to by both of their names (but rarely by their last name alone).
Nit: "da Vinci" wasn't Leonardo's last name, his first name was Leonardo, and he was from the town of Vinci. Apparently, per Wikipedia, it wasn't common back then to have a surname, as it was just Leonardo, son of [whoever], of Vinci.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
Though they used their last names, everyone knew who Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo were.
As a Marxist (tendance Groucho), I have to take issue with this one as well. everyone may have known who they were, but "Groucho", "Chico", etc, were nicknames (and thus not acceptable), their real first names were Julius, Leonard, Adolph (later Arthur), and Herbert, respectively. However, practically *no one* called them by their first names either, the brothers used their stage names amongst themselves, their families called them by their stage names, as did their mother. About the only instance I know of of a brother being routinely called by their given name after they reached fame with their nicknames is frequent costar Margaret Dumont, who often called Groucho "Julie" off camera.

Last edited by dhkendall; 02-04-2010 at 07:46 AM..
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  #22  
Old 02-04-2010, 04:25 PM
palindromemordnilap palindromemordnilap is offline
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Hannibal was part of the Barca family. It's not clear that they used last names.

Leonardo di Ser Piero is the birth name of a guy whose family hailed from Vinci.

Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was named after John the Baptist, but when his dad returned to Assisi he started calling the kid Francesco. The "Saint" part was added posthumously.
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  #23  
Old 02-04-2010, 10:11 PM
Švejk Švejk is offline
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Lenin was often affectionately referred to by his patronymic (i.e. his father's name) Il'yich.
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  #24  
Old 02-04-2010, 10:32 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I know you said pre-1950, but I think it's worth mentioning Arnold Schwarzenegger since he is pretty well known as just "Arnold" (I think most people would probably think of him if they just heard that name, alone,) and he did not deliberately set out to make himself known by his first name like Prince or Beyonce did. He's just SO larger-than-life, and has such an uncommon first name, that it was easy for him to just become known as "Arnold."
I don't know that people would instantly recognize "Arnold", but rather "Ahnold". It's not the name itself that's distinctive, it's the combination of the name and the accent.

On the other hand, in the same category (post-1950, but never set out to go by one name), there's Elvis. Sure, everyone knows his last name, but the first name is enough.
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