I watched a movie recently in which one of the characters states that his mother doesn't have a maiden name. It really struck me as something odd (I am not a native English speaker), I would have thought the answer would be that his mother's maiden name is the one she's bearing. However my Irish boyfriend claims one only "obtains" a maiden name once she gets married. In other words, is maiden name an equivalent of birth name for women?

*EDIT: I think what I'd really like to know is how you answer the question from the movie - what is her maiden name, knowing she's not married?

  • 7
    In principle a woman obviously has her maiden name (the surname she was born with) before she gets married. But no-one would call it that until after she marries (and adopts her husband's surname), because before that it's just her [sur]name. Oct 6, 2015 at 15:08
  • Yes I would have said it's an equivalent to 'former name'; it doesn't have any value until the name is changed (as opposed to 'original name', which may or may not be the current one).
    – JHCL
    Oct 6, 2015 at 15:56
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    This is a matter of culture, not language. In many parts of the world women do not change their names on marriage.
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:51
  • 2
    @Chenmunka you're not wrong but it's about the use of the English language to describe the culture with which it evolved, so is both on-topic and a sensible question.
    – Chris H
    Oct 6, 2015 at 19:22
  • Does one have a "first wife" when you only have one?
    – stevesliva
    Oct 7, 2015 at 4:08

1 Answer 1


The original surname of a married woman who uses her husband’s surname after marriage - Oxford Dictionary

This definition backs up your boyfriend’s claim.

However, other dictionaries are a little looser:

The surname that a girl is given at birth and that some women change when they marry.


I won’t list all dictionaries I checked, but most imply it's the name 'before marriage'.

I think for all practical purposes, there is no point in using maiden name in reference to the surname of a woman who has never changed her name after marriage.


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