maiden name

Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

A maiden name is a woman's surname or family name before marriage -- sometimes referred to the birth name. The maiden name is often indicated using the word "née" (meaning "born"), along with the married name, e.g. Margaret Jones née Smith. While there is no law requiring that a woman adopt her husband's name, it is a tradition steeped in history. However, there are cultural differences in how maiden names are used and whether or not a woman changes her maiden name after marriage. It is good to become familiar with individual cultures and time periods to understand unique naming conventions. In modern society, many women retain their maiden names after marriage; it is also common for women to hyphenate their maiden and married name, e.g. Margaret Smith-Jones.

In genealogy, women are commonly referred to by their maiden names on pedigree charts and in family records, establishing an identity separate from their husbands. For example, a child may be identified as the son or daughter of David Jones and Margaret Smith. Discovering a woman's maiden name is one of the great challenges in family history research. Once a woman assumes her husband's surname, it becomes her "legal" name, and many women become effectively "lost" when they marry and remarry. Identifying a woman's maiden name can be the key to finding important records and distinguishing between individuals. The maiden name is also key to identifying a woman's family and extending the maternal family line. Various records provide maiden names or clues to maiden names. The marriage record, of course, identifies a woman by her maiden name. A child's birth record, also, typically identifies the mother by her maiden name. Sometimes a record may only provide clues such as a census in which a woman's maiden name can be deduced by family members residing in the household or in close proximity. In some cases a child's first or middle name may reflect the mother's maiden name; again, it takes a little sleuthing to deduce.

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