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Née is a word borrowed from French that means "born as" and is used to denote someone's former name, such as the maiden name of a married woman. It is usually seen as a parenthetical aside: "Jane Smith (née Doe)." I'm looking for something equivalent that would work when speaking in a formal matter, like for a news report or a speech. I don't think née works in this context, because it sounds more like a negation.

The only thing I can think of is formerly or formerly known as, but those almost sound like something you would say about a criminal to me. I'm wondering what are some good alternatives.

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Maiden name/surname ? –  Blessed Geek Jun 24 at 8:19
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I can see why you say it "sounds like a negation", but I still think it is right to say "née". I don't think anyone would be very likely to misunderstand. –  Urbycoz Jun 24 at 9:46
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Lots of people are "formerly known as". Most criminals are not so famous that they are treated to formal speeches listing their past aliases. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 24 at 13:25
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Remember that née is in the feminine singular in French. If one is really going to use it, one should make sure that it truly applies. Several married sisters might have been collectively nées a common surname, and even a man today might have been with a different one than he now carries today following his marriage. In other words, there are occasions where other than feminine singular concordance makes sense. Of course, the English translation born requires no such gimmickry. –  tchrist Jun 24 at 13:28
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The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince is now known as Prince. –  Doc Jun 24 at 16:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 28 down vote accepted

How about simply translating née into English, giving born?

"Jane Smith (born Doe)"

For an example of usage, see this web page

Additionally, see this definition (1b): used for saying that someone had a particular condition, personal quality, name, or social status at the time when they were born [...] e.g. Elton John, born Reginald Dwight.

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I think born works well. I hadn't even considered it. Thanks. –  MrsLannister Jun 24 at 13:58

In Irish, means ‘daughter of’ and Mac/de means ‘son of’. So a name such as Mary Burke in Irish is Maire Ní Buirce, which means Mary daughter of Burke, and Sean de Buirce means John son of Burke. It can also be used in this context — e.g., Mary Murphy Nee Burke: Mary Murphy daughter of Burke.

Née is so well used in everyday life now that formerly, daughter of, born, or any others will not express what you’re trying to say well enough. You won’t get the same effect no matter what the direct translation — I agree with Urbycoz: stick with Née.

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The Irish is pronounced differently though, close to knee. –  Jon Hanna Jun 25 at 13:08
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And for that matter, "de Buirce" doesn't mean "son of Burke", it means "of the House of Burgh", as it's of Norman rather than Gaelic origin (anyone using with it would be Gaelicising a Norman name rather than using an original Irish form), so that bit is incorrect as well as the bit about being irrelevant. –  Jon Hanna Jun 25 at 14:44

Apart from née itself, I'm not sure if there is any word that conveys exactly the meaning you want. Instead of formerly, you could use originally or previously but they mean exactly the same thing.

The only thing I can think of is formerly or formerly known as, but those almost sound like something you would say about a criminal to me.

I understand what you mean but I don't think there is much that can be done about it. Apart from when a woman gets married, it's unusual for someone to change their name and even though there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation it's human nature for people to think there might be something odd about it - be that eccentricity, criminality, or something else.

In your speech or news report, you could elaborate on the reason behind the change of name. This would be justified if the change of name is relevant to the matter at hand. If it's not relevant, just leave it out.

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It is not unusual for a person to change his name, for reasons other than marriage. Most adopted persons have their names changed as part of the decree of adoption. Some people simplify their birth names with a legal name change. It is a very common court procedure. –  Theresa Oct 11 at 1:23

I don't think née works in this context, because it sounds more like a negation.

Fair enough, but the spoken English form of née remains, née.

But if you've a personal dislike for it, by all means just translate it; "…who was born…".

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