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I know after checking various sites that née is often used after the current family name and before the maiden family name for a woman.

But how is it properly used before a person's original given name?

The first name my mother uses is Rita, and that's how she has been known by everybody since she was a child. But she was actually born Rebecca. For some reason she has used Rita all her life and I believe even her driver's license says Rita. But her birth certificate says Rebecca. I'm not sure how it is listed with social security. At any rate, her birth given name and the name she has actually used all her life are different.

If we were to use née in this case, would this be correct?

Rita née Rebecca Lerner

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It is not an uncommon occurrence in my family tree to find a person whose birth certificate contains a name they never used in their life. In my family tree, I have a set of triplets whose births were registered as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Within two weeks their parents saw reason and they were christened William, Albert, and Percy, the names which – believe it or not – they stuck with.

Technically I could describe them as William Jones né Shadrach Jones, etc. But what would be the utility of that? It would require further qualification and explanation, which would make the purpose of using – its brevity – redundant. I entered them in my genealogy program under their christened names, which were used their entire lives. I made a note that interestingly their birth certificate names are different to the names they used. But a birth certificate is just a piece of paper, and as genealogists I think we sometimes set too much store by what that one piece of paper says. The concept of a birth name is in itself quite subjective – is it what the birth certificate says, is it what the mother first called the baby, etc.?

I would therefore reserve née and né for when the reason for its use is obvious, or explained elsewhere in your text. As other answers have stated, there is no reason it cannot be applied to given names, even though it may be less conventional to do so.

I would also add that in cases where you are using née to refer to changes in given names, it would be clearer to include the surname in both names even if it is the same surname. Rita née Rebecca Lerner implies that she was born Rebecca Lerner, but it does not make it clear whether she also used the surname Lerner later in life when she was called Rita. Rita Lerner née Rebecca Lerner leaves no ambiguity in this regard. If her married surname was Smith, you would be better writing Rita Smith née Rebecca Lerner.

In your mother's case, since she was known as Rita her entire life, I would hesitate to ever describe her as née Rebecca. Certainly it is a point worth noting that her birth certificate reads Rebecca. It could be a clerical error, and the parents never intended her birth certificate to say that. For all you know, Mrs Lerner could have sent Mr Lerner to register the birth, perhaps after he had had a glass or two in celebration of the new arrival, and his welcome when he got home: "I said Rita, you idiot! Not Rebecca!"

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I am not certain that it is appropriate to use née in this way.

Both Merriam-Webster.com and TheFreeDictionary.com seem to say that née is primarily:

Used to indicate the maiden name of a married woman.

but its other meaning may leave scope for you to use it as you have:

Formerly known as

In any event I would name your mother as:

Rebecca "Rita" Lerner

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I think that the implied sub-text here is that there is a correct way of using terminology. In my personal view, language changes and so there often isn't such a view. If it's a technical term, defined in law, say, we need to be careful / critical about changing it but otherwise, I think we simply need to ask whether the altered meaning is contradictory or unclear.

In this case, given that "née" simply means "born", I would find "Rita née Rebecca Lerner" perfectly clear and therefore acceptable. The second meaning found by @PolyGeo would support this. The question would be - given the perhaps unusual nature, would "Rita born Rebecca Lerner" not be a better phrase? In any case, it merits an explanation in words, not just a single term.

One can actually make a case that 'Rebecca "Rita" Lerner' isn't actually correct. This implies (to many people) that "Rita" is her nickname. I would say that this isn't the case, based on what you say. It is her current proper name. It's just not the one she was registered(?) with. However, there are caveats even with that view - I am speaking from the point of view of someone in the UK where you can actually call yourself anything you like and are free to change your name without any formal documentation - it's just that the formal documentation makes it easier to access bank accounts etc in the other name.

If you live in an administration where name changes have to be official then, without such an official name-change, you would consider the later name to be a nickname.

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It is quite common in Dutch Genealogy for someone to have a "roepnaam", which literally translates as "call name", i.e. what people generally call you, a bit equivalent to a nick name but it tends to be used by everyone, not just close friends for a nickname. See "Roepnaam" — a good Dutch word

I usually indicate that this by placing that name in round brackets rather than using née.

e.g. Rebecca (Rita) Lerner

Another option some recommend is to put the nickname in quotes, see How to Properly Record Names in Genealogy

e.g. Rebecca "Rita" Lerner

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This discussion reminded me of a wonderful informative discussion about names that is relevant to all genealogists: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/

WRT this example I do not believe that it's (culturally) appropriate to use née. Rather I think the right thing (TM) to do is to use Rita Lerner and have an "also known as Rebecca Lerner" record (in your genealogical software).

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