Full name vs. first/last name - to split or not to split?

Full name vs. First/last name - to split or not to split - The Mobile Spoon

Some readers have complained that my posts are getting too long.

Well, you’ll be happy to know that I black-listed all of them (they won’t bother us again), but for the sake of making a point, this post will be a short one:

Sign-up forms...
Conversion rates...
You want to collect the user’s name...

Should you go with a single “full name” field or split it to "first name" and "last name"?
My answer is: split it (see? told you it will be short).

The answer is: to split. 

Here's why:

Why you should use a single name field: 

For the sake of the sport, here are the reasons to use a single "full name" field:
  1. Better user experience - things go faster when using a single field.
    More fields = more friction (unless, of course, you want to create some friction on purpose). 
  2. Prevent confusion - having one name field eliminates confusion in some places (and cultures) where the name is handled a bit differently (i.e in Japan, Korea, and Romania the family name is placed before the first name). 
  3. Multi-cultural support - It's easier to handle long names such as Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, that don't fit the common structure. 
  4. Easier to support titles (i.e / Mr. Dr. etc.).
  5. No need to align with location-specific terminology (i.e. first/last name vs. given/family name). 
  6. Many users (mainly young ones) are not thrilled to provide their full name, age, or gender.
    A single name field feels less "demanding" and encourages entering partial names or nicknames. 
To conclude, using a single "full name" field can solve a few cultural challenges and improve the user experience. That's why designers usually lean towards this alternative. 

Why you should split the name to first and last name:

  1. Personalized communication -  whether you're using push notifications, emails, or in-app messages, using the first name makes the message more personal and effective.
    "Hey John" seems casual and personal. "Hi John Connor" sounds like the terminator.
    Marketing-wise. this one is a killer reason to go with separate fields because trying to automatically get the first name out of a full name is a recipe for embarrassment.  
  2. Business needs - if your product operates in (or needs to integrate with) industries with strong identification requirements (i.e. medical, government, financial, insurance, legal) - you'll need to have the names stored separately. 
  3. Technical needs - if you need to use some APIs that require first and last name - you will need to have this information available accordingly. 
  4. Functionality - storing the name in separate fields will allow better filters, search, and sort capabilities in the product. That might become critical. 
  5. Usability - it's true that one field is faster than two, but since most web browsers support auto-fill, the "extra effort" is not significant. 


So here's my subjective conclusion, which means it's 100% bulletproof and the absolute correct answer: 

Start with 2 fields.
There are many reasons to split the name: business needs, technical needs, functional benefits, and of course - marketing needs. I believe those reasons are more important than user experience, although I usually go with UX.

Of course, it's always a matter of context. So if none of the above makes sense for your specific product, and usability is key - then maybe this approach just isn't for you.

Either way, remember that it's easier to combine 2 names into one than to split them apart, so if you're not sure what's the right decision yet - start with the safer option and split the name to first + last.

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Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
dave said…
It really takes an extra amount of time to take "full name" and parse it into FName and LName for your database. Alphabetizing by first name--is immature. Further, if you ever contemplate addressing "Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs xxxx" you are much further ahead with Fname and Lname fields to start with. I cannot remember how many hours I have spent taking single field to two fields on datasets I have inherited!
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Tom said…
Our designer convinced us to use full name + we had to develop a function that finds the first name out of anything = PAINFUL .
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Ashish Jain said…
Sorry but I dont agree. The reason given to support Split usage is mostly technical and nothing for the UX. I believe the technical difficulty has to be overcome but that cannot be passed on to the user to define. I would use Combined name field and intelligently split the name in First and Last name which can be used in the technical scenarios. Again, it is based on my preference.
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Unknown said…
I'd say: don't ask for stuff users don't benefit from to give. Just ask: "how would you like to be called" and use one field. An extra field is extra (visual) noise as well, extra text to process and adds to cognitive load.
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Anonymous said…
First label usually is: "Name" so you fill out whatever you think it is. Then the next label ist "Last name" and now you are f'd
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Anonymous said…
People have spaces and different characters in both first and last names. Use two fields. Screw your horrible UX and get names right. You'll never be able to parse names from a single field.
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
bruh said…
To be honest, you don't need user's full name in most projects, and you don't need their gender as well. Just a name field would be enough.
Gil Bouhnick The Mobile Spoon
Anonymous said…
As someone with spaces in their last name, it MUST be split fields. I deal with horrible data issues and identity verification problems constantly. Also, no dev can ever properly parse a single field to get a real name. My initials are wrong in every piece of software from the largest companies to the smallest. Whomever decided it was good to use a single field is someone that put form over function with zero thought of any long-term negative impacts. So this "UX" enlightenment causes real world problems and wastes tons of time for real people in the real world. The form is debatably easier, but now the consequences of it are far far more impacting than having to localize a form. My and me 5 supposed aliases would like to thank the geniuses that ever thought this was a good idea.