What is a maiden name?
What is the meaning of 'mother's maiden name' and why is it important for family history?
What is the meaning of a mother's maiden name? A maiden name is a woman's surname before she is married, usually the family name of her parents and the name registered at her birth. The term is typically only used for women who also have a married name.
Banks and other institutions used to commonly use a customer's mother's maiden name as an additional security question but this practise is not recommended now that information like this is so easy to obtain.
Marriage certificates for England and Wales do not necessarily include a woman's maiden name. The bride supplies her name at the time of marriage, but this will only be her maiden name if it is her first marriage. If it is her second or later marriage, then she should supply her previous married name. You may be able to work out what her maiden name is by the surname of her father which is usually supplied, unless the father was unknown. Sometimes the father on a marriage certificate will be a stepfather and in which case he will not have the same surname as the bride's maiden name.
In Scotland, the bride usually supplies her maiden name even if she was previously married. Scottish marriage certificates also include the maiden surname of both the groom's and the bride's mother. In Scottish records many married women continue to be recorded by their maiden name.
Birth certificates for all of the UK include the mother's maiden name. In the printed indexes that are used by most subscription websites to create their birth indexes, the mother's maiden name is not included until 1911. However, the GRO has an index on its website for English and Welsh births that includes mother's maiden name back to 1837.
If you want to research a woman's family history, it helps to know her maiden name as this helps you trace her parents and perhaps find her in earlier census records. It may also help you to find her parents' marriage and take your family tree back another generation.
Sarah Williams is the editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine