I would like to “try” to clarify the confusion that comes from name formats during this process. I cannot address the variances of every country, but I will explain things from a “Western” perspective along with some variations I am clear about.

Let us consider the name of our president – Barack Hussein Obama.

For official forms they often ask for the following names – firstname, middlename, lastname.

The “Firstname” is the name he would be known by to his friends and family. It is Barack.  It might sometimes be referred to as a given name or Christian name. A given name is one that is given to a child by the parents – meaning it is a name they choose.

The “Middlename” for our president is Hussein. It is also a “given” name in that the parents chose it.

The “Lastname” for our president is Obama. This name is sometimes referred to as a surname or family name. The name, in most Western countries, comes from the family (typically from the fathers side), and is not “chosen”, So – in the case of Barack Obama, his father’s family name was Obama.

Some DV documents will list the names in a kind of “reversed” order (Lasname, Firstname Middlename). This is very common in a lot of systems. So – it would not be a surprise to see our president listed as “Obama, Barack Hussein”.


Additional names

Now some people have some extra names. Barack Obama might have been given an extra middle name. That might have resulted in his name being something like Barack Hussein John Obama. In that case he would have written two middle names.

Another variation is where people keep their “maiden” family name after marriage. A “maiden” name is the name someone had from birth and is often changed by marriage where the woman (again, typically, in Western countries) takes the name from her husband.  However, in some cases a woman might decide to keep her maiden name OR to keep the maiden name AND add the husband’s name. Hilary Clinton did exactly that. She was born “Hillary Diane Rodham“. When she married Bill Clinton she kept her family name so she actually has a full name of “Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton“. If she were to fill in a DV form she would probably have two names “Rodham Clinton” like this:-

Firstname: Hilary

MiddleName: Diane

Lastname: Rodham Clinton

That would typically mean some DV correspondence would show her name as “Rodham Clinton, Hilary Diane”


However, she “might” decide to write the second family name in the middlename section So she would write like this:

Firstname: Hilary

MiddleName: Diane Rodham

Lastname: Clinton

In that case she would see “Clinton, Hilary Diane Rodham” on some DV letters.


Spanish/Latin America variations.

In Spain, and some countries in Latin America people have a double last name convention. So, the singer Julio Iglesias has a full name of “Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva”. In his case Iglesias is from his father and “de la Cueva” is from his mothers side. His data would be entered like this:


Firstname: Julio

MiddleName: José

Lastname: Iglesias de la Cueva


Single name (such as is common in Indonesia)

I have come across this before, and don’t have a great answer of what to do – so what I write here is a suggestion – your choice. If you are in this situation, you are going to have to make a decision on how to treat the name. Remember, in America (and the majority of countries around the world). It is normal to have at least two names. A family name (referred to as surname or lastname in the USA), and a given name (referred to as firstname or Christian name). In an American family the “norm” is that everyone in the family has the same family name – and each person has a given first name. Having two names creates some differentiation which makes life easier in terms of being identified.

There is a Wikipedia page that has the following suggestions for adapting the Indonesian single name for the USA.

1. Use the current name as the lastname, and end up with a first name of FNU or NFN.
2. Use the current name as the firstname, and end up with a first name of LNU or NLN.
3. Repeating the current name for first and lastnames.

None are ideal – Personally I would go with option 3 – but it is your choice. This is something you will have to decide and use in the future. I guess you could also adopt a second name prior to interview – going through a legal name change process.