Friday, August 24, 2012

I can't tell you my maiden name!

I'm loving this unexpected side effect of having conversations with more of my fellow genealogists: they say things that I think are really weird, and suddenly I have a blog post idea! :) Today's thing-I-think-is-weird is people's reluctance to divulge their maiden names.

This has come up when I'm telling people about WikiTree, because your WikiTree ID is based on your maiden name. Some people use X or something similarly anonymous, but most people just put in their last name at birth. So the minimum info you're asked for when signing up is your first name, last name at birth, and email address.

The response to that has sometimes been: "You want my last name at birth? That makes me uncomfortable...", to which my response is a puzzled look. There are several reasons why this makes no sense to me, which I will now explain:

1) Just about all men, and an increasing number of women, have the same last name from birth to death. They have no "maiden name". My last name is Lavoie, it's been Lavoie since the day I was born, and it will be Lavoie until the day I die. It wouldn't be very practical, therefore, for me to hide that name from you. This is true for the majority of people. So why is it that people who choose to change their last names when they get married suddenly need to keep their old names a secret?

2) Even people who don't have public online trees often write publicly about their ancestors. I hate to tell you this, but even if you hide your parents' names, if I can see all your grandparents' names, I can probably guess your maiden name. And your mom's, for that matter.

3) This is perhaps the most important reason. If you, in this day and age, are using your maiden name or your mom's maiden name as a password for anything of any importance, please stop, now. That is not secure. You are just begging for identity theft.

Have I missed anything? If there's another reason why you keep your maiden name a secret, I'd love to know what it is! Because it's a total mystery to me!

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