Is "formerly" the best word for maiden name?

+18 votes

I wonder whether it might be better to use "née" or "birthname" rather than "formerly".

To me "formerly" indicates a name change unassociated with marriage, although maybe it is a standard in the US.

The French "née" is what I would choose but I am ignorant as to whether this is common usage in the US.

in Policy and Style by Steve Bartlett G2G6 Mach 3 (36.9k points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
I prefer "nee" - it's specific.

While, others may like to use "maiden name", also specific.

And even some will use "formerly" which means before, and can be used in a wide range of discussion, not specific to "nee" or "maiden name" or "birthname".

Guess that here in WikiTree, its simply a matter of who has designed the site has chosen and gone with "birthname" - also specific, just more letters are used to convey the same meaning as "nee".

All part of having an extensive vocabulary.

I wondered what nee meant.  Now the mystery is solved!

Thank you


4 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer
Hi Steve,

Your thoughts on the use of "nee" are valid and the term was surely considered while they hashed these things out.  Working together with so many people from different places and cultures, they had to make choices such as deciding to go with "formerly".  Regardless of how you or I understood the word before WikiTree, here it means "was their last name at birth".

Many people weigh in on the descisions and put much thought into it, then once they decide... we get behind them go with it!

Great question... have a super day!
by Keith Hathaway G2G6 Pilot (605k points)
selected by Steve Bartlett
Thanks Robert, I've been working on some 16th century Parish Records and I thought I'd mention it as it seemed a bit weird.
Thanks Robert and Steve.

Nee and maiden name wouldn't be appropriate because they are gender-specific. Moreover, we chose the term "Current Last Name" for the field instead of "Married Name"  because a last name can change during a lifetime for a reason other than marriage.

We could use "born as" or something to indicate it's birthname.
"born as" may be the better choice.  "formerly" - may have made sense in the context of when it was decided -- but in the wikiworld  - decisions need not be permanent - even those that rely on changes by the admin!   If we've come to a better solution after experience - we can switch trains - at least those that don't cost too much in coding or bandwidth!
The current nomenclature of LNAB and "formerly" acknowledges that there are myriad reasons why a person might end up using a last name that is not the name they were born with.

The French word "née" did originally mean "born," apparently, but its use in American English is almost exclusively in the context of a woman's "maiden name." That makes it a poor choice. Also, inserting a French word into the data labels here would likely make it even harder for non-English speakers to understand or translate this website.

That's right Chris!  People like me have legally totally changed their name, which is why I added my legal name change document to my profile!

A total name change really makes it hard on ancestors to find you!

+13 votes
I would vote for birthname. There are other situations besides marriage that lead to name changes. John Doe is an "illegitimate" child, later legitimized by subsequent marriage and now named Smith, for instance. Or Wilhelm Schneider immigrating to the US and then going by Snyder. Or some family with the name Höritzer moving to a new town and all of a sudden everybody is Hönitzer in the records. Née doesn't cover any of these instances since it is so closely tied to the change of names by marriage.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (541k points)
I too think birthname works - if understood in context of surnames.   I am not clear why née doesn't work?   (or what I may be missing) - it means "when born" - and isn't that what we are after?
Née doesn't work because it refers to a female only.  So what do you do when you have a same-sex marriage between two males?  You would have to use né.  And maybe the programmers threw up their hands in horror at having to put a letter-with-an-accent into the coding.  Maybe it's difficult, I dunno.
+6 votes
'Formerly' is also used on UK birth certificates for the mother's name (eg 'Ann Smith formerly Jones').
by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
In the case of a second marriage for the wife -- does formerly always refer to the maiden name, or do we get two "formerly" names?  Or just the most recent one?
Don't forget, I am talking about the *birth* certificate here.  On the *marriage* certificate, there is no 'formerly' at all.  It's just whatever name she gets married with.  All I can tell you is what I have seen.  Here is an example from my own family tree:

Susan Emma FARLEY married Paul TAPPER with her maiden name.

He died.  She remarried John BLAGDON with her 'old' married name of TAPPER.

Their baby's birth certificate called her 'Susan Emma Blagdon (late Tapper, formerly Farley)'.
+3 votes
Personally, since we all seem to know what the term 'formally' means, I would stick with it. I'm sure it fits the bill for gender and most religions and cultures.
by Pete Hudson G2G4 (4.2k points)
Typo I am sure - formerly.
No, not a typo, just a simple mistake!
I am formerly and formally Smith.  :-)
Formerly I was pleased with my ability to spell; alas, I have to formally declare that my spelling capability is declining with age. Sadly, it would seem, my ability to read and comprehend is heading in the same direction! Now, back to the question: I formally believe that formerly is fine; it is a redundant excersize to try to fix that which works... :-)



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