Forms

Why Your Form Only Needs One Name Field

Does your form have two separate fields for the user’s name? If it does, you’re making it harder for them 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, the 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 you always use them 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. The 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 approach makes the text field usable for every user no matter what culture they come from.

name-field-comparison

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 or a “Preferred Name” field on your form. This field allows you to address them the way they prefer without identifying the first name.

preferred-name-field

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. Many people have the same last name, and many more 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 or phone number. These input data are unique and sometimes more straightforward 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, having two is better than one. But when it comes to name fields, having one is better than two.


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This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Kelsey Reply

    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 Reply

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

    Pro:
    * 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.)

    Cons:
    * 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 Reply

      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

      • Dave Linabury Reply

        Many databases DO require them separate. Government, healthcare, financial, and insurance sites for example. They cannot be changed to single field.

  3. Sean Fousheé Reply

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

    • Dinkel Reply

      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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

      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 Reply

        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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

    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 Reply

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

    • anthony Reply

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

      • Robert B Reply

        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 Reply

          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.

  11. Mr. i have 2 names Reply

    Chrome and Firefox auto fill forms if you name your fields right. Even if this were not the case what is the difference in effort between hitting space and tab? Apparently you never had a task to take a combined name field and split it…

    Also database searches are more efficient when searching by lastname and first name vs combined name fields where the first name is first or perhaps even contains a title…

  12. Shehata Reply

    Great article, I just want to add a point that I think not clearly visible form the comments, there are a lot of countries(e.g Egypt) that the only identifier for a given person is his/her full name, first name plus the last name is not an identifier for a person, so having in your database only the first and last name will not work for this case!.

    • Fatma Reply

      Oh great point Shehata! I was thinking the same. In Egypt, we have the first 3 names as the legal name and the full name would be the whole 4 or 5 names we have in the ID. However, it’s still confusing if you live in the US when they ask about the full name, They mean the first and last so most probably we won’t write the full name though!

  13. David Lopez Reply

    I agree 100%, and have been doing this. UX is more important in most cases. In the few cases in which you would need to search by first or last name or need to record them, you simply ask for both using the international passport format. And even then, a single name field that contains both can still be searched. In social networks, games and most applications where you don’t need to —interface with the justice system— and hence you don’t require to know the legal name of your user, this makes sense the most, plus it’s more privacy protecting. Some people will leave your site/app at the registration phase just because they don’t want to fill in —one more field—, if we studied it, we would probably find a linear correlation between bounce rate at registration and each additional field to fill. This has been partially proven by the significantly higher number of registrations found when using facebook and google registration as an option. If your application needs to verify real life identity, like when you are building the UI for a platform that lets people get or provide loans, then it makes sense, because the gov. requires the company to know their customers legal identity for tax (yuck), money laundering, terrorism, and prosecution reasons. Most of the time, this is not a requirement and the internet would be less fun if it was required everywhere.

  14. Ronald Pijpers Reply

    Thanks for the article, I agree with you.
    And while we’re at it, we should also change the address and phone fields.
    I often get forms which have separate fields for streetname, housenumber, housenumber_extension. Why not just have one field?
    For the phone number, there are often still separate fields called phonenumber and mobile number. We should get rid of that too.

  15. dave ladouceur Reply

    We are all about user experience and if we cannot integrate to other systems then someone’s name is going to be messed up. Outlook has done this and other systems has done this in spades. Display Name and Name Fields offer the most functionality.

  16. Millie Reply

    I agree, but the label should say Full Name (First and Last)* as I’ve implemented this and then noticed that many people would just enter their first name in the Full Name field.

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