Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Maiden names and married names

When Christine and I got married last year, Christine decided that she would take my surname. It was her choice – I didn’t really mind either way. What is now her ‘maiden name’ was an unwieldy double-barrelled surname that she didn’t really like, so she took the opportunity to become a plain and simple Turner.

The fact that we, at least in Britain, still use the term ‘maiden name’ is rather baffling. We don’t call unmarried women ‘maidens’ anymore – it’s an antiquated and, in my view, rather patronising term that isn’t in common use. Yet if you apply for a bank account you’ll probably be asked to supply your mother’s maiden name.

And it doesn’t reflect societal changes that have happened over the years. Obviously the biggest change is the legalisation of same-sex marriages – if two men get married and one changes his name, then is his old name a ‘maiden name’? But even before the change in legislation, it was possible for men to take their wife’s name – indeed a colleague of mine did just that last month. Is his previous name a ‘maiden name’?

There’s also the trend of combining names. Some people go double-barrelled, but others create one name out of two. Say Christine’s ‘maiden name’ was Smith (it wasn’t), then we could have become Mr and Mrs Smithner if we wanted to. A same sex couple I went to university did just that when they had their civil partnership a few months ago.

So what are the alternatives? ‘Birth name’ is one, but your birth name may be different to the name that you had just before you were married. For example, if you have been previously married and then divorced, you may have already changed your name once before. ‘Surname prior to marriage’ may be the most accurate, but it doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue. ‘Unmarried name’ seems a little ambiguous.

Perhaps we’ll eventually come up with a term that is as simple as ‘maiden name’, that includes everyone who changes their name at marriage. Any suggestions?


  1. When my wife and I got married, we decided to take our surname from the name of our business (which we had renamed two years prior to be a combination of our two surnames). So she’s got a maiden name and I’ve got a bachelor/master name: the latter can confuse people/systems.

    However, things such as the Disclosures Records system just asks for “Previous name(s)” which I think is a good idea and deals with it in a gender-agnostic manner (also remember that people also tend to change their names during gender transitions and divorce).

    A good question regarding names (baring in mind ) is “why are you asking?”. If you are asking for identification purposes – perhaps you need *all* previous names (such as DRB checks), if you are asking for a security secret then you are going security the wrong way (relying on publicly available information), if you are are asking for any other reason then you probably don’t need it.

    BTW, when I received email notification of this post, all the links were to https:// versions – I think there is a mis-configuration somewhere.