The term "maiden name" is used to denote a woman's name at birth (or early life) prior to marriage, particularly in cultures where women change their name when they marry to incorporate some part of their husband's name. Consequently some women may have many names at different times of their life, reflecting their current or past marriages. Genealogists generally refer to women by their maiden name, when it is known, as it is usually less ambiguous.
Many variations exist across cultures on how a woman changes her name on marriage. In many English-speaking countries, the woman takes her father's surname (family name) at birth and then her husband's surname on marriage. A woman who has taken her husband's surname usually retains it if she is widowed. When a woman is divorced, she may revert to her maiden name or retain her married name.
The advent of feminism in the 1900s resulted in some women choosing to retain their maiden name regardless of marriage, to retain their self-identity. Professional women often choose to retain the name with which they have acquired a professional reputation, regardless of marriage (or may use a different name in professional and personal life following marriage). Some couples combine their surnames by hyphenation, e.g. Smith-Jones, and some men take their wife's surname.