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This tradition has arisen separately in different cultures around the world.In Europe, the concept of surnames became popular in the Roman Empire and expanded throughout the Mediterranean and Western Europe as a result.First/given/forename, middle, and last/family/surname with John Fitzgerald Kennedy as example.This shows a structure typical for English-speaking cultures (and some others).When people from areas using Eastern naming order write their personal name in the Latin alphabet, it is common to reverse the order of the given and family names for the convenience of Westerners, so that they know which name is the family name for official/formal purposes.
Depending on the culture, all members of a family unit may have identical surnames or there may be variations based on the cultural rules.
It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed.
This practice also differs between cultures; see T–V distinction.
In most Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries, two surnames are commonly used and in some families even three or more are used (often due to a family claim to nobility).
Surnames have not always existed and today are not universal in all cultures.