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Surname vs. Maiden Name: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 19, 2024
A surname is a family name passed down generations, while a maiden name is a woman's surname before marriage, often changed post-marriage.

Key Differences

A surname, also known as a family name, is used by members of a family and is passed down from generation to generation. A maiden name refers specifically to a woman's original surname before she changes it upon marriage.
Surnames are common to all family members and can be inherited from either the mother or father. The maiden name becomes significant when a woman decides to adopt her spouse's surname after marriage, retaining her original surname as her maiden name.
In many cultures, the surname remains constant throughout a person’s life. In contrast, a maiden name may change in the context of marriage, where a woman may adopt her partner's surname, relegating her birth surname to 'maiden name' status.
The usage of surnames serves to identify familial lineage and heritage. Maiden names, however, often hold personal and historical significance for women, reflecting their ancestry prior to marriage.
Surnames can be traced back to indicate family history, whereas maiden names represent a woman's personal history and identity before marital changes.

Comparison Chart


Family name passed down generations
Woman's original surname before marriage


From parents, often patrilineal
Woman's birth family name


Typically constant throughout life
May change upon marriage


Identifies familial connections
Indicates original family identity pre-marriage

Cultural Significance

Represents familial heritage
Represents personal history and ancestry

Surname and Maiden Name Definitions


A surname is a family name shared by members of the same family.
Everyone in the Johnson family shared the same surname.

Maiden Name

Maiden names often change when adopting a spouse's surname in marriage.
She used her maiden name, Wilson, in her professional life.


A surname can identify familial lineage and heritage.
The surname Nguyen is very common in Vietnam.

Maiden Name

A maiden name reflects a woman's family lineage before marital changes.
On the form, she listed Martin as her maiden name.


Surnames are inherited and often passed down from parents.
Her surname, Smith, was a common name in her region.

Maiden Name

Maiden names can be kept or hyphenated with a spouse's name after marriage.
She chose to hyphenate her maiden name, Clark, with her married surname.


Surnames often reflect geographical, occupational, or ancestral origins.
The surname Baker originated from the occupation of baking.

Maiden Name

A maiden name is a woman's original surname before marriage.
Her maiden name was Green before she changed it to Brown.


In many cultures, surnames are a key component of a person's full name.
His surname, Kim, is shared by many in Korea.

Maiden Name

Maiden names hold personal and historical significance for many women.
Her maiden name, Patel, represented her Indian heritage.


A name shared in common to identify the members of a family, as distinguished from each member's given name. Also called family name, last name.


A nickname or epithet added to a person's name.


Can a maiden name be used after marriage?

Yes, some women choose to keep their maiden name professionally or personally.

Do surnames vary across cultures?

Yes, surnames have diverse formats and meanings in different cultures.

Are surnames important for legal documents?

Yes, surnames are crucial for legal identity and documentation.

Is a maiden name considered a legal name?

It's the legal name until changed through marriage or other legal processes.

Is a surname always inherited from the father?

Often, but not always; some cultures inherit from the mother or use a combination.

Is it common to hyphenate a maiden name and married name?

Yes, it's a popular option to combine both identities.

How are surnames chosen in case of adoption?

Usually, the adopted child takes the adoptive family’s surname.

Can surnames be changed?

Yes, through legal processes for various reasons including personal choice.

Can a maiden name be passed to children?

It’s possible, depending on cultural practices and personal choices.

Are maiden names important in historical records?

Yes, for understanding family structures and heritage in historical contexts.

Do all women change their maiden names upon marriage?

No, it varies based on personal choice and cultural practices.

Is a surname necessary on all official records?

Typically, yes, as it's a key part of legal identification.

Can a maiden name be a middle name?

Yes, some women use their maiden name as a middle name after marriage.

Does a child’s surname have to match the parents’?

Not necessarily, it depends on cultural and personal choices.

Can surnames affect professional or social perceptions?

Potentially, as they can carry cultural, social, or economic connotations.

What happens to a maiden name after divorce?

It can be retained, or the woman may revert to her maiden name.

Are surnames linked to ancestry?

Yes, they often reflect familial and ancestral heritage.

How are surnames used in genealogical research?

They are essential for tracing family history and lineage.

Is a maiden name a personal choice?

Yes, how and whether to use it is a personal decision.

How do surnames differ in matriarchal societies?

They may be inherited matrilineally, contrary to the more common patrilineal inheritance.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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