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During the early Middle Ages, mononymity slowly declined, with northern and eastern Europe keeping the tradition longer than the south; an example is Edeko, the East Germanic chieftain whose son ruled Italy as Flavius Odoacer.By the end of the period, surnames had become commonplace: Edmund Ironside, for example, ruled England (although Ironside was an epithet added later in life), Brian Boru was High King of Ireland, Kenneth Mac Alpin had united Scotland, and even in Scandinavia surnames were taking hold.Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto, who is now ranked as an important and original painter in his own right, traded on the mononymous pseudonym of his uncle and teacher, Antonio Canal (Canaletto), in those countries—Poland and Germany—where his famous uncle was not active, calling himself likewise "Canaletto".Bellotto remains commonly known as "Canaletto" in those countries to this day.The 20th-century British author Hector Hugh Munro became known by his pen name, Saki.In 20th-century Poland, the theater-of-the-absurd playwright, novelist, painter, photographer, and philosopher Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz after 1925 often used the mononymous pseudonym Witkacy, a conflation of his surname (Witkiewicz) and middle name (Ignacy).While many European royals have formally sported long chains of names, in practice they have tended to use only one or two and not to use surnames.In Japan, the emperor and his family have no surname, only a given name, such as Hirohito, which in practice in Japanese is rarely used: out of respect and as a measure of politeness, Japanese prefer to say "the Emperor" or "the Crown Prince".

In some societies, individuals have been mononymous, receiving only a single name.

Ancient Greek names also follow the pattern, with epithets (similar to second names) only used subsequently by historians to avoid confusion, as in the case of Zeno the Stoic and Zeno of Elea; likewise, patronymics or other biographic details (such as city of origin, or another city the individual was associated with, borough, occupation) were used to specify whom one was talking about, but these details were not considered part of the name.

A departure from this custom occurred, for example, among the Romans, who by the Republican period and throughout the Imperial period used multiple names: a male citizen's name comprised three parts (this was mostly typical of the upper class, while others would usually have only two names): praenomen (given name), nomen (clan name) and cognomen (family line within the clan) — the nomen and cognomen were almost always hereditary.

Monarchs and other royalty, for example Napoleon, have traditionally availed themselves of the privilege of using a mononym, modified when necessary by an ordinal or epithet (e.g., Queen Elizabeth II or Charles the Great).

This is not always the case: King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has two names.

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