Friday, April 21, 2017

Dear Randy: How Do You Handle Female Names?

Reader Kathi asked the following questions in email recently:

"I've read that some people only use the Birth Name for females and associate all Sources to that Fact.  That seems counter intuitive to me since so many Sources cite the married name.  What do you do/recommend?"

My response was:

It's a good question.  In recent years, researchers and websites are wandering away from the naming standards used over decades of genealogy in the United States.

The American standard for a female person's "Name" in a family group sheet, a pedigree chart, an online tree, a genealogy software database, etc. has been to use the woman's maiden name.  

Some online trees are now adding the married name(s) to the profile, and using a field for maiden surname and another field for current (or last or died with) surname.  MyHeritage, and WikiTree do this, which I don't like but can't do much about.  I wrote Hmmm. There are Still No Standards for Names in Family Trees in February 2016 about this.

My current naming practice is this:

*  I try to use the Birth Name to identify the person in the "Name" field.
*  I add an "Alternate Name" to the Fact/Event list in RootsMagic for other names the person used - first, middle, last, married, adopted, etc..
*  I add a source citation for which ever name was used in a record.  

For instance, if a Find A Grave memorial used "Betty Virginia Carringer Seaver" as my mother's name, I make an Alternate Name Fact for First name = "Betty Virginia Carringer" and Last Name = "Seaver."  I end up with several alternate names for most people, especially with a lot of census records, each tied to a source citation for the record that supports the name.  

There are some articles about name standards - probably the best one is Gary Mokotoff's article  "A Proposed Standard for Names, Dates and Places in a Genealogical Database,"  Avotaynu,   Volume XXIV, Number 3 (Fall 2008), available online at -


Copyright (c) 2017, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest using the icons below.  Or contact me by email at


Geolover said...

Mokotoff's otherwise careful and systematic article completely ignores Arabic dating and Spanish naming systems.

CS Images said...

I do it differently if I find for instance a woman with her married name in a census and I don't know her maiden name I used the married name in square brackets. So Ann [Lefever] is how I display it as it shows which family she has become part of. Blanks or unknown doesn't show me which of my lines she is part of which I find is better than underscores or unknown. When / if I later find her maiden name I change the surname in square brackets to her surname at birth.