What Does Née Mean in an Obituary?

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Have you ever read an obituary and come across the word “née”? Like “survived by” or “preceded in death,” this is one of those terms you may see so often in obituaries that you never stop to consider whether you actually know what the terms mean.

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There are many reasons you might be curious about née’s meaning. Maybe you need to write an obituary and want to be sure you’re using the correct terminology. Maybe you saw the word in an obituary of a friend or family member and didn’t know what it meant. Perhaps you’re simply the type of person who values understanding everything you read.

Regardless, if you’d like to learn about née’s meaning and how you might use it in an obituary, this guide will clarify the topic.

Née Defined

Although some women keep the family surnames they were born with throughout their lives, it’s not uncommon for women to change their surnames. Marriage also isn’t the only reason a woman might make this decision.

After all, a woman could decide to keep her birth surname even after getting married, only to later change her surname if, for instance, she became an actor and wanted to change her name for professional reasons.

We use née in writing to indicate the surname a woman had when she was born. While this may make it sound as though née means the same thing as maiden name, the next section of this entry will explain why that isn’t necessarily true in many instances.

What’s the difference between a maiden name and née?

Née and “maiden name” are very often interchangeable. That’s because née refers to a woman’s family surname at birth. That would qualify as her maiden name if she got married and changed her surname to that of her spouse. 

The primary difference relates to the way we use both terms. When we refer to a woman’s maiden name, we’re specifically indicating we’re talking about a surname she changed after getting married. That’s not necessarily the case every time we use the term née. Although it’s acceptable to use née in this context, and in fact, this is the context when we most commonly use it in English-speaking countries, you could also use née to reference the birth family surname of a woman who changed her last name for a reason other than marriage.

For instance, perhaps a woman adopted a pseudonym as an author. An article about her life might include née to let readers know the last name under which she wrote wasn’t the last name she was born with.

The main point to understand is that there are multiple reasons a woman might change her last name, and née applies to all of them, whereas maiden name only applies when a surname change was the result of a marriage. You wouldn’t use the term maiden name to indicate a woman’s birth surname that she changed for any other reason. You would instead opt for née (or, potentially, one of a couple of alternatives listed later).

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Examples of Née in an Obituary

If you’re wondering how to write an obituary that includes née, or you’re simply interested in seeing examples of its usage in this context, the following samples will help. They illustrate some of the ways née might appear in various obituary formats. The last example also highlights how née and maiden name may not always be interchangeable in an obituary.

Example one

McCANN - Theresa M. (née Hill), September 10, 2015, Brooklyn, NY, loving mother of John and Scott, grandmother of James, Julia, and Kevin, wife of Benjamin. Mass September 15, 2015, 11:00 AM, St. Anthony of Padua Church, 862 Manhattan Ave. No prior visitations.

Example two

Patricia Grant (née Frederick), age 67, Paterson, NJ, passed away from complications relating to diabetes on August 7, 2017. She is survived by her loving children, Ken, Michael, and Katherine, along with their children, Jessica, Theodore, and Beth. Patricia also made a tremendous impact on the lives of countless local children over the course of 40 years as a dedicated teacher in various local school districts.

Additionally, she actively participated in various charities and non-profit organizations, specifically those that help local at-risk children. Friends and loved ones can pay their respects at Paterson Funeral Home, August 12, 2017, at 2:00 PM.

Example three

Jane Clemmons (née Bishop), age 80, passed away peacefully from heart failure on December 5, 2010, in her Denver, CO, home. As a loving wife to husband Roger, a loving mother to Ruth, and a loving grandmother to Kelly, Grace, and Laura, Jane constantly brought joy into her family’s lives.

Writing under the assumed surname Clemmons, she also brought joy to millions of young readers through the 30 books she published throughout her career. The family has arranged a private service, but welcome fans to pay their respects at a public memorial service at City Park, 2001 Colorado Blvd, December 10, 2010, 7:00 PM.

Other Ways to Say ‘Née’

You don’t need to use née when you want to let a reader know a woman’s current surname isn’t the same as her birth surname. There are alternatives worth considering. They include the following:

  • Born: Because we use née to indicate a woman’s birth surname, some people choose to use born instead. For example, you could start the second obituary example in the above list by writing “Patricia Grant (born Frederick)” if you’d prefer. 
  • Formerly: Formerly is another word that can serve the same essential purpose as born or née in many contexts. That said, this could arguably be vaguer than those words in certain circumstances, given that it doesn’t specifically need to apply to a birth surname. You could technically use formerly when referencing another previous surname a woman had, such as a married name that she eventually changed for professional or personal reasons. That said, in most cases, people will understand your intention if you use formerly in place of née.
  • Previously: Previously is equivalent to née in basically the same capacity that formerly is. It doesn’t technically need to reference a birth surname, but if you’re using it in that context, you can probably expect people to understand the point.

Née: Not Just a Maiden Name

Even people who have some familiarity with née’s meaning often make the mistake of assuming it has the exact same meaning as a maiden name.

That’s not always the case. Hopefully, this guide has helped you better understand that née is a slightly different term serving its own unique purpose.


Sources

  1. Waddingham, Anne. “New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide.” Oxford University Press, 2005, Print.
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