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Maiden name

In popular usage, "maiden name" is the family name previously carried by a woman who is now married and uses her husband's name. A maiden name may be indicated using the French term "née" (pronounced as either "nay" or "nee"), which literally translates as "born", hence Margaret Hilda Thatcher née Roberts.

The term "maiden name" has been anathema to American feminists since the 1970s -- the politically correct term is now "birth name", which may also be used of those who have changed their name for any other reason. Those who find the traditional term offensive say it demeans woman by labeling them according to their sexual status, "maiden" being a synonym for "virgin" and being construed as meaning the woman's father and then husband had control over her body and "branded" her with their names to signify that control.

It has become more common, especially for feminist minded women, to take their husband's name but put it before their birth name - for example "Kate Lutyen" marries "John Smith" and becomes "Kate Smith Lutyen". Sometimes both husband and wife will adopt a hyphenated name consisting of both surnames.

In many English-speaking countries, it was for a long time the usual practice for a woman to change her name upon marriage unless she was engaged in some profession under her own name, although that was never the law except in a couple of states in the U.S. The American suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone (1818 - 1893), Mrs. Henry Brown Blackwell, made a national issue of the practice as part of her efforts for women's rights in the U.S., and women who choose not to use their husbands' surnames have been called "Lucy Stoners" ever since.

Laws respecting married names vary. In areas whose legal systems derive from the English common law -- such as the U.S., much of Canada, and the U.K. -- a name change usually does not require legal action, because a person can choose to be known by any name (except with intent to defraud); this is why authors, actors, and step-children, as well as married women, can adopt new names without taking any legal action. In many jurisdictions whose legal systems derive from the civil law -- such as France, Spain, the province of Quebec, and the state of Louisiana -- however, the default position is for a woman's "legal name" to remain the same throughout life: Women there who wish to change their names legally must usually apply to do so via the same formal procedure as any other citizen who wishes to change a name.

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