The impetus for this post was a recent email from a colleague who was facilitating my connection to an acquaintance of hers. I was seeking information on a subject of interest to me, and my colleague explained that Mary Smith Jones (not her real name) would be an excellent source — and that she always has included her maiden name in her signature.
Although birth name is a more gender-neutral term, the outdated descriptor maiden name still is used in conversations, by writers, and on forms both men and women complete for any number of official uses.
The practice of a woman retaining her maiden name as part of her full married name gained popularity during and following what was this country’s second Women’s Rights Movement.* Yet it still is more common for a woman to give up her last name and be known by her husband’s family name.
It makes sense to use the more-inclusive, gender-neutral term birth name when referring to anyone’s original name, as it can apply to men as well as to women — and to a spouse in any kind of union.
If you work in human resources or have forms in your company that request a maiden name, I hope you’ll encourage those who oversee that department to consider a more inclusive term. Were he still around, John Wayne likely would concur.
* Historically, there have been at least two women’s movements in the United States. One began in the late 1920s and focused on voting rights, and another started in the 1960s and is often referred to as the Women’s Liberation Movement.