Father’s Maiden Name

Credit cards often keep your mother’s maiden name in their database for security purposes. This so called “security” is based on two assumptions:

  • Your mother was married.
  • Your mother changed her last name to her husband’s last name.

Were these assumptions true, only your close relatives would know your mother’s maiden name. In reality, if your mother was never married, then your last name is the same as your mother’s last name. So, crooks who are trying to steal identities can try to use your last name as your mother’s presumed maiden name. Very often they will succeed. Besides, many women do not change their last names. If you have a different last name from your mother, but your mother uses her maiden name, then the bank’s security question is not very secure at all.

If you want your identity to be secure you might need to invent a maiden name for your mother. Alternatively, perhaps your parents can tell you a family secret that will help you choose a name that is related to you, but not transparent to the public.

My relative Martin took his wife’s last name after their marriage. Before his children apply for credits cards and bank accounts, he needs to explain to them that it is better for them to use his maiden name as their mother’s maiden name for banking purposes.



  1. JBL:

    If only the construction “his maiden name” was more common ….

    I also find the question irritating, as my mother did not change her name at marriage; my bank allowed me to choose one of several security questions, which included “Mother’s middle name.” I guess that in Russian, middle names are no more secure than other kinds of names (or do only men get patronymics?). I wonder how long it will take until this question is abandoned in the face of changing societal mores.

  2. Geneal:

    Any time some functionary at a financial institution asks me for my mother’s maiden name, I give them my rant about how this is not a secret password. For instance, Who’s Who in America lists about a quarter of a million people, most of them with their mother’s maiden name, and most of whom have assets worth going after. As an amateur genealogist, I find this practice particularly oppressive, since it has resulted in actual bills being introduced in Congress that would essentially outlaw the inclusion of living people in family trees.

    The relatively unusual situations you mention don’t apply to me, but it’s very easy for almost anyone to find my mother’s maiden name. So when I can’t avoid answering that question, I have a name I use that’s meaningful to me, easy to remember, and hard to deduce from my family tree.

    Fortunately, the use of mother’s maiden name as a password is receding. The best alternative I’ve seen is to use a question of the person’s choosing. Mine is, “What was the old phone number at Crescent Hill?” I’ll leave that one as a challenge for your readers. I suspect that even Peter Winkler, who may be able to identify “Crescent Hill”, can’t find the old phone number there.

  3. JBL:

    I don’t know if its use is receding generally, but at least bank websites now seem to want several security questions of your choosing, rather than just one.

  4. Reila:

    Changing the woman’s last name to match the man’s is primarily an English tradition, as there are countless examples of cultures around the world with different naming conventions. I’m sure many Chinese, Arab, and Spanish immigrants are perplexed by a “security” question referring to something so obvious to find.

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