What is a Maiden Name?

It’s tempting to think of a maiden name as something pure and said with reservation. Even more confusing, when creating a password online, you might’ve come across security questions asking for your mother’s maiden name. You may be wondering why fathers seem to be left out of the conversation regarding maiden names, if everyone has a maiden name, or if it is only reserved for special kinds of people. 

A maiden name is a surname that a woman has before she gets married and takes on her partner’s last name. In other words, the maiden name refers to the last name she was given at birth. In most cultures, a woman takes on her partner’s family’s name in marriage, so her last name then changes. 

The concept of a maiden name seems like an arbitrary rule that we’ve followed for centuries, so understanding its meaning can seem complicated. Even more so, understanding the importance of a mother’s maiden name can seem random as well. Keep reading to learn more about maiden name.

what is a maiden name?
What Is a Maiden Name?

Maiden Name Meaning (What is a Maiden Name?)

The traditional definition for the word “maiden” refers to a girl or a young woman, but it extends past this. A maiden is typically referred to as a young woman who also isn’t married, so when put together, the phrase “maiden name” refers to the last name that a young woman has before getting married. 

A maiden name is the original name that a woman has before she adopts her husband’s last name. It refers to the name she was using before she assumes the title of “Mrs.” 

In many cultures, it’s still common practice for women to adopt the husband’s last name, so when the conversation of maiden names comes up, men are usually excluded from the discussion. Men aren’t known for taking on the last names of the partner in most cultures. 

History of Maiden Names

Historically, maiden names were mostly a concern for women and for a specific reason, but to understand the why, it’s worth learning about the how

In the past, most people were referred to by their name given at baptism: their first name. There wasn’t much of a need for surnames, and they weren’t deemed all that important until an interesting problem occurred. 

Because most people were going by traditional Christian names, there came a point where too many people were running around with the same name or same sounding versions of the same name. As the population grew, it got way too confusing for people to meaningfully distinguish between one another, so surnames came about. 

People started going by last names that had a great deal of importance to them. Names often came about from lineage, place of work, or even location. 

By the ninth century, women started taking their husbands’ last names when lawmakers began to consider the legal technicalities around families, marriage, and possessions. As a result, the Doctrine of Coverture came into existence, which ruled that men in marriage absorbed women’s legal rights. Once in that lifetime contract, women were henceforth considered adjoined with their husbands (or property of their husbands). 

What is a Maiden Name?
What is a Maiden Name?

What Is a Mother’s Maiden Name? 

A mother’s maiden name is the name your mother had before she adopted her husband’s last name. In other words, it’s the last name that she was born with in her original family before getting married.  

For example, if her name was Alexia Jones before she got married, and she met a real handsome guy named Mark Armstrong, her new name would—in the traditional sense—be Alexia Armstrong once she married him. 

However, her maiden name would always be “Jones” because that’s the name she possessed before marriage. 

A maiden name can be an extremely effective personal security answer because most people have no idea what an individual’s maiden name is. The chances are that you know your own mother’s maiden name, but you don’t know the maiden name of your friend’s and coworker’s mothers. To add to the confusion, some women actually choose to keep their maiden name rather than take on their partner’s surname, especially in modern times.

As a result, you’ll often see a question regarding maiden names in choosing security answers since it’s difficult to determine. 

Where Can I Find Someone’s Maiden Name? 

Maiden names can seem like they’re shrouded in a great deal of mystery. After all, if you’ve ever had a married teacher, neighbor, or friend, the last name they introduced themselves with likely isn’t the surname they were given at birth. Maiden names feel like they’ve been buried somewhere, and they’re quite challenging to find, but there are some ways around it. 

To find a married name, you can start by identifying a person of interest’s marriage records. Besides just asking the person directly (if applicable), this is the easiest and most obvious route to start with if you haven’t any idea where to look. 

On those marriage records, you’ll be able to find the last name of a woman before she got married. You won’t generally have to look for a man in the marriage records, so that cuts your time searching by at least half. 

If the person you’re looking for has been married multiple times, however, it can take much longer to find a maiden name.  

You can also do a bit of detective work by searching through birth and death records to find a person’s maiden name. If you don’t know their maiden title at the start of your operation, then searching for their death certificate is a better route to take (if applicable). If her parents’ names are listed on the certificate, then you’ve got yourself an answer. 

It’s certainly possible that the woman you’re trying to find the maiden name for remarried, so you may have to do some additional cross-referencing between records to make sure that everything lines up. 

Famous People’s Maiden Names 

As hinted above, not everyone takes the surname of their partner when they get married. Quite a few notable celebrities have chosen to keep their last names despite getting married, even multiple times in some cases. 

Chrissy Teigen 

Most recognizable from her personality on television and commercials as a model, she is also married to the famous musical artist, John Legend. She chose to keep her last name despite the historical pressure of adopting her husband’s last name. 

Halle Berry 

An American actress who began her career as a model has found herself married a total of three times. In each marriage, she’s kept her last name just the way it is. 

Mariah Carey 

One of this generation’s most popular musical icons, Mariah Carey, has been married twice: to her former manager Tommy Mottola and the musical artist, actor, and television personality, Nick Cannon. In both marriages, she’s kept her last name.

Diana Ross

Famous world-renowned diva, Diana Ross, has been married on two occasions. She married and divorced music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein and eventually the billionaire Arne Naess, Jr. With such an iconic last name, she kept her maiden name throughout both marriages. 

Jessica Alba 

American actress and businesswoman Jessica Alba began making movie appearances at the age of 13. She met her eventual husband, Cash Warren, on the set of Fantastic Four in 2008 when she was 27. The pair have been married ever since and now have three kids. Despite the long history together, she’s chosen to keep her last name as Alba. 

Final Thoughts 

A maiden name is most often associated with the name that a woman or mother has before she gets married and takes on her partner’s last name, and the surname can change multiple times if the woman in question gets married numerous times. 

Although there’s a cultural pressure—backed by centuries of tradition—to adopt one’s partner’s surname, women are choosing not to every day, proudly upholding the family name, and making it a new norm. However, regardless of what she decides to do, her maiden name will always remain the same as the day she was born. 

What was your mother’s maiden name?


I just love everything about names. Here I ha’ve gathered everything about names in The United States and around the world...

Recent Posts

What Is a Maiden Name?