It's not clear to me how both surnames should be entered for women who took their husbands surname when they married. On some genealogy websites I often see married women's names displayed in the format:

first middle maiden surname

I like how the maiden name is rendered in italic. I don't know if that's a convention or not, but I think it makes it easy to understand where the different parts of the name came from, and I'd like to eventually produce a document with names in this format.

I looking at the Gramps interface I see a two different ways I could enter names like this:

  1. Enter the birth name in the preferred name fields in the Person dialog, and enter just the last name as the married name under the "Names" tab.
  2. The same as number one, but enter the married name as the preferred name, and the birth name as the other name.

Which way should the names be entered? Is there a convention for entering names like this? Additionally, when entering the married and birth names, should I specify the full name in both places?

Edit: The Gramps 5 interface is nearly identical to Gramps 4 from what I can tell.

  • 3
    Not answering the question as such but .... The trouble with conventions is (a) half of your readers don't know what it is; (b) others have different conventions and (c) plenty of names are just tricky. Oh - and some software doesn't do italics in names! If someone in the USA was born as "Alexis Bruce Colman" because their mother's name was Bruce, then marries Mr Davies and becomes "Alexis Colman Davies", then is divorced and reverts to "Alexis Bruce Colman" then marries Mr Edwards and becomes "Alexis Colman Edwards" - it all gets a bit complicated! Best to (somehow) list all the names.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:33
  • 2
    It simplifies life greatly if you don't bother with married names in genealogy. Presumably, if you know her married name, you know her husband's name and can enter him in your database. Thereafter, anyone who needs her married name can easily figure it out based on her marriage.
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 21:15
  • 1
    Also, keep in mind that adopting one's husband's family name as one's own after marriage is by no means a universal practice. Many, many places did not or do not follow such a convention.
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


This is not specific to Gramps (not a Gramps user), but a general comment on naming individuals.

There are at least 3 main options for recording the name of an individual: (1) their name at birth; (2) their name at death; (3) their primary use-name during their lifetime.

Published genealogies have very consistently used option (1), although there are exceptions, e.g., when names are translated from one language to another (as when someone born Johann Heinrich is commonly known as Henry during their lifetime). I'm not sure where the italicized middle names come from either - other than in outlines, published sources generally list married women as Given (Maiden) Married.

Option (1) is also what you'll see if you look at FamilySearch Family Tree. So,if your software is capable of doing matches against the FamilySearch Tree, you'll have better luck if you use the same naming convention.

Option (2) is what you'll see on, say, FindAGrave (the name on the headstone). I don't know of any tools that try to match directly to FindAGrave - Ancestry has their own FindAGrave index, and their hint software is smart enough to understand the difference between maiden and married names. So, using option (2) doesn't gain you anything there, and in all cases, there's the issue of multiple marriages.

Option (3) covers a number of scenarios - in addition to that mentioned previously, there's also the case of women who re-married late in life, but used their 1st husband's name for most of their lifetime. There are also adoption cases, where children's adoptive names don't reflect the family they were born into.

Personally, I list birth names as the preferred name for all individuals, and if use-names differ, I list them as AKAs. In my software, this would show up as Johann Heinrich "John Henry Snyder" Schneider. A little clunky, but it works for me.

If you're uploading your tree to a website (especially if it's cousin bait), you might also want to consider what name other researchers might be using when they search for, or match on, a particular individual.

  • 1
    Find a Grave is one of the websites that displays women's maiden names in italics.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 19:34
  • 1
    That was the only one that came to mind - are there others? I also wish for a generic way to indicate when someone commonly used their middle name, rather than their first - italics would work there, too, if there was a portable way to do it.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 22:00
  • The only convention I know about indicating someone's use-name is the German custom of underlining the Rufname ("appellation name" or "call name") to show which of the forenames the person was called by. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_name.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 20:25
  • Find a Grave was the site I was thinking of.
    – Stratus3D
    Commented Jun 8, 2019 at 18:04

I'm a new Gramps user and had this same question. After much searching I concluded that the best way is to add multiple names under the 'Names' tab:

Example Maiden Name

Unfortunately this requires retyping the given names, but it gives an unambiguous name and doesn't rely on any particular conventions. You do have to choose which name should be the 'Preferred' and which the 'Alternative'. It seems like most geneologists use the Birth Name as Preferred (in agreement with @cleaverkin's answer).

I haven't seen any good ways of recording when a particular name was used. So far I have been recording this in a free-text note.

This suggestion produces the following GEDCOM entry:

0 @I0000@ INDI
1 NAME Alice Beth /Collins/
2 GIVN Alice Beth
2 SURN Collins
2 NOTE @N0000@
1 NAME Alice Collins /Darwin/
2 TYPE married
2 GIVN Alice Collins
2 SURN Darwin
0 @N0000@ NOTE Used before marriage and after divorce

I have also seen the SURN record used for maiden names in the export from other programs (e.g. geni.com's GEDCOM):

0 @I0000@ INDI
1 NAME Alice Beth /Darwin/
2 GIVN Alice Beth
2 SURN Collins

I have so far been unable to get Gramps to produce similar output, and it's not clear to me whether this is an abuse of the GEDCOM spec. I think Gramps' two-name approach is clear, even if it duplicates the given name information.

  • 1
    Re Alice with /Darwin/ and SURN Collins. Err - yes, it's not clear to me if this is an abuse of GEDCOM either. It's not 100% explicit but I believe that GIVN and SURN were intended to parse the NAME, so I would be fairly certain that the construct is wrong. There are pgms that ignore GIVN and SURN because everything they need is in NAME. FWIW, I would go with your 1st construct of a primary name (usually birth) and alternatives for anything else, inc. various married names. Personally I've seen no pgms that allow dating of names - stupid that.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 13:22
  • Will Gramps let you search by non-preferred names? Adding alternate names is an option in all the desktop tools I know about, but, e.g., FamilyTreeMaker only indexes by the preferred names. I'd love to be able to list my wife's ancestral family with both Mandarin and Roman names, but I can only search/index on one of them.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 19:30
  • 4
    @cleaverkin yes, gramps will search by all names, not just the preferred name
    – Dezza
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 14:39

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