Why Your Form Only Needs One Name Field

by on 02/14/17 at 7:34 am

Does your form have two separate fields for first name and last name? If it does, you are making it harder for users to fill out your form. But there’s a better way.

Split Name Fields Cause Problems

Not every user has a first and last name. Their cultural background determines how their name is formed. For example, if you’re from Latin America, chances are that you have two last names, one from each parent. If you’re Chinese, your family name is first, personal name is last, and they’re always used together.

Requiring every user to type their name into two separate fields is an impossible task. Some users will be able to do it, but others won’t know how to split their name into first and last. These users will get confused, leave a name field blank and won’t be able to submit the form.

Single “Full Name” Field

A single field labeled “Full Name” is more culturally inclusive. Full name may include first, middle, last, family and other given names. It allows users to type in their name without splitting them into first and last. This makes it usable for every user no matter what culture they come from.


Preferred Name Field

Sometimes you may want to parse the user’s full name so that you can address them appropriately on your interface. Since the full name field doesn’t parse their first name, you can give users a “What should we call you?” field. This allows you to address them the way they prefer without having to identify a first name.

Database Name Search

Full name fields can make it easy or hard for you to search for users in your database. It can make it easy because a full name is a unique parameter, a first or last name alone isn’t. There are many people who have the same last name and many more who have the same first name. Searching by first or last name alone would return too many results to sift through.

It might make it hard if the user has a long full name that’s hard to pronounce or spell. It’s not efficient to spend too much time figuring that out. An alternative to searching by full name is to search by their email address. An email address is unique and may sometimes be simpler than the user’s full name.

Cultural Inclusivity for Usability

The structure of a name is not the same across cultures. Users who visit your site will consist of a broad range of people from different countries. Your name field should be culturally inclusive so that no one struggles to fill out your form. With most things in life two is better than one. But when it comes to name fields one is better than two.


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17 Responses to “Why Your Form Only Needs One Name Field”

  1. Kelsey

    Feb 15th, 2017

    While great intent, I find it hard to imagine that our co-workers in IT would make the change to the CRM for a single name field. This feels like a lot of work from a data perspective. Is there a better way to label the two fields instead? And also include a ‘What should we call you?” field…

  2. anw

    Feb 15th, 2017

    I very much agree that this is a lot more user-friendly. But let’s look at the pros and cons.

    * This keeps things simple for the user. Instead of having to tab or mouse to 2 fields for their name, they can just put their full name into one field
    * This takes away confusion in how to word “First name” and “Last name” in places where the family name is usually placed before the given name (such as Japan, Korea, Romania, Hungary, etc.)

    * We now are not completely sure what the actual given name of the person is. “Arne Douglas” could be either someone named Douglas with a family name Arne, or someone named Arne with a famly name Douglas.
    * If we are forwarding this information somewhere, we have to try to parse out where a famly name begins. Let’s say we have the user inputs their name and we have to send this name to a goverment agency. The agency has fields that we have to fill out for both first and last name. Does our software know to split up “Archibald Jafeth de Willhelm VI” as “Archibald Jafeth” for the given name and “de Willhelm VI” for the family name to be placed into the appropriate fields?

    This is an issue of which I have been trying to find work arounds. I do like the fullname approach, but often it adds additional burdens in how to handle it.

    • Michael

      Feb 16th, 2017

      Perhaps it’s a good place to start and if the user-name is for something that DOES require a split name, a ‘family name’ field can be added to the ‘what do we call you’ field.

      Thinking about it though, what real value IS there to having separate first and last names? Why would that bank database really care? We can search and sort on that name field anyway and some people’s Last Names have spaces in them in the same way as a full name. Having just a single name field would essentially make the system search and sort on first-name instead of last-name

  3. Sean Fousheé

    Feb 16th, 2017

    Why not include a checkbox that a person can check if they don’t have a Last/Family name?

    • Dinkel

      Feb 17th, 2017

      I would think that, while this is adding an extra step to the user flow, this would be the better option, since you might stop users who do not have a first and second name from leaving your experience and still get the most information out of the form for your data base

  4. Devin

    Feb 19th, 2017

    While I understand your point, there are both pros and cons to your suggestion. I generally tend to use a single name field for simple lead forms but I’ll utilize two name inputs for applications that will benefit from the split data.

  5. andre ferreira UX manager

    Apr 6th, 2017

    Totally disagree with one single text field for several reasons, technically speaking it’s a nightmare for databases to distinguish data.
    The problem here actually is on the way you label it. you can just say First/given name . and Last/family name. Pretty sure that most people will get it no matter where they come from.

    • Eneroth3

      Jun 6th, 2017

      When you say distinguish data, what data is it you want to distinguish? Since there isn’t any specification of how a name should be formatted the very idea of distinguishing different parts of it is flawed.

      • Sam

        Aug 7th, 2017

        I don’t think it’s flawed– if you have a database that needs to be able to sort people by their family name independent of their given name, it’s not at all unreasonable to point out that a single text entry is incredibly difficult for a database to handle in this way.

        For instance, wouldn’t you need to know the ethnicity or nationality of the respondent in order to understand a single name input correctly? Even if you somehow separated the family and given name after the user submits, that separation would be very different for American and Chinese respondents since the ordering of their names are opposites of each other.

  6. Karthiksathasivam

    Apr 24th, 2017

    I understand we cannot search the last name from the data base if we use this one field method for First/Last Name.

    But we could use this method if we have a unique attribute on which we could search to zero in for a particular user, i think this method could be used or else we need to split the names entry fields as first or last name.

    Searching a name from the database could be technically tedious and time consuming may be a nightmare. But what i see here is, we could use this single text field for name in cases we have other mandatory attributes such as mobile number and email Id, which i think is far more easier to zero in for a particular user. In such cases we could use single text field instead of First Name, Middle Name and Last name.

    Instagram and Twitter uses this one field method for signing up. But both needs mobile or email ID as mandatory information for signing up.

  7. Ivan Burmistrov

    May 19th, 2017

    Unbelievable. “What should we call you?” means “We will spam you”. Also, users are clever enough to understand that if you ask for first name and last name separately then you will use first name for spam (“Dear John”).

    GOV.UK Service Manual (note that this is government!) provides some other arguments for using single name field: https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/design/names

    Use a single name field because it can accommodate the broadest range of name types and requires less effort for users to understand.

    Multiple name fields mean there’s more risk that:

    ▪ a person’s name won’t fit the format you’ve chosen
    ▪ users will enter their names in the wrong order
    ▪ users will try to enter their full name in the first field

  8. Koru

    Jul 14th, 2017

    Well the decision is certainly driven by where it is placed. If I am to collect the information as a record of the individual. Having two fields, definitely make sense. However, in other cases, the two could be combined to build a warmer connect. Having separate fields does make better sense as suppose you want to send this person an emailer, there would be ambiguity on what should the person be addressed as. As far as cultural inclusivity is concerned, I am pretty sure everyone is pretty used to filling forms and wouldn’t take it as an offense.

  9. Ilya

    Nov 14th, 2017

    Lel, instead of get him fill fields whatever way he want and avoide problems with right parsing you want to force regular user do same actions twice.
    I don’t see any problems if Chinesian user fill first name field or last name field way he prefers.

  10. Robert B

    Nov 27th, 2017

    Once again, UX thinking their way is the only way and forgetting to account for data storage and handling.

    • anthony

      Nov 30th, 2017

      It’s addressed in the 3rd and 4th section.

      • Robert B

        Dec 1st, 2017

        Sorry, but that’s a stupid “solution”. Even a preferred name doesn’t allow you to find people by their true last name or first name efficiently.

        • anthony

          Dec 4th, 2017

          If the objective is to locate a user’s info, you can easily use the full name parameter to locate it efficiently. Searching by first or last name alone would return too many results because there will be multiple people with the same first name and last name.

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