• Using first label as the full name - first, middle, maiden/birth name. (Margaret Anne Jensen was born on November...)
  • Discuss early achievements by referencing only birth last name - Jensen. (Jensen graduated from college...)
  • After marriage reference only married last name - Williams. (Jenson married John Williams in... Williams was awarded...

AP rules say to use only last name as reference, which would be Jensen in her early life, then Williams after she changes her name. Since her last name changes during her life not sure how to address this without confusing the reader.

Every way I try it just doesn't seem right. If I use her married name (death name) throughout, then quote from awards given to her earlier which state her maiden name it is confusing. If I use her maiden name (birth name) throughout, same problem, but with the awards given after marriage. Looked at AP style and Strunk and White, don't really give specifics for biographies. Don't know that picking one name to use based on if she accomplished more while single or married is the way to go? Looking for answers and examples.

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    You should always consult the style guide for the organization you are writing for. That said, I often see the first reference after the name change written as "Smith (née Jones)", and the changed name thereafter.
    – Jeff Zeitlin
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 14:48
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    First name, middle name, maiden surname, married name? Some people have a lot more names than that. A great great great grandmother of mine was named Anne Frances Veronica Hurst (1801-1868), and married Jacob Demuth (1779-1842) in 1822. And she was mentioned in various documents during her widowhood from 1842 to 1868 as Mrs., Demuth, widow Demuth, and by various combinations of her names or initials. Someone could easily think she was several different women. Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:47

4 Answers 4


In the absence of a clear and authoritative style guide you wish or need to follow, follow the clear guides below, which are derived from long experience in the Biography sections of libraries, where the books are filed under the names people use to find their subjects.

For people who achieve the status of being biography-worthy under their birth names, use the birth name. Shirley Temple.

For people who achieve that status under a later name, use that name. Marie Curie.

For people who achieve the status under a forename, nickname or other sobriquet, ... well you catch my drift I expect. The Edge.

At some point in the biography make it clear when the name changed, probably also why.

And my rules apply equally to men as well as to women.

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    The Wikipedia article for Temple uses 'Temple' throughout. Curie's uses 'Maria' for her early life, 'Skłodowska' for her life in Paris, and 'Curie' after her marriage, except when they needed to differentiate her from Pierre. Hillary Clinton's uses 'Rodham' until it reaches the point where she started using it (which was notably several years after their marriage). Not sure how consistently Wikipedia adheres to a single style guide, but a useful reference nonetheless. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 3:51
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    @ArcanistLupus Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the topic. Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 16:29

The classic way to do this was, “Mary Smith (née Jones).” These days, most well-known women use one name throughout their careers. It’s also more acceptable than it used to be to refer to someone—especially as a child—by her first name. Traditionally, biographies would mostly refer to their subjects by the names they used at that point in their lives, but if that would be confusing, or especially if you’re writing about them out of chronological order, you might stick to the name she’s best-known by and mention any others in a parenthetical.

There are a few men who went through something similar as well, mostly rulers who took a different regnal name: Augustus is generally called that after he took the name Caesar Augustus and “Octavian” before, even though his actual names were rather more complicated. A contemporary example would be Cardinal Ratzinger, also known as Benedict.


Typically, you would refer to her by her married name, even when discussing her life before marriage, to avoid this inconsistency; generally you use the final last name someone had.

When you first mention her, you would want to use the adjective née to give her maiden name.

So you would say:

Margaret Anne Williams (née Jensen) was born in November. Jensen went to school in a nearby town.

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    Normally married name but if they remarry after chief fame, maybe not last married name (Jacqueline Kennedy?)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:13
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    @StuartF Why not Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis? That's the name I'd expect to find her listed under, perhaps with a née Bouvier in there somewhere.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 23:30

You generally start a bio with an introduction, mention the birth date, the birth name, and the name that causes anyone to care to read the biography.

Note that your question is a drastic over simplification as she may have gone through many different name changes during her life, from nicknames to multiple marriages to criminal aliases or political or criminal undercover aliases identities, as well as amnesia. Possibly even multi-personalities although that is somewhat disputed.

If you start with both how they are best known AND how they were known at birth, you can track the changes throughout her life (and even after, Saint Kathy of the ……).

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