I have been noticing recently (last few years), née/nee being used a lot more commonly both in general media (newspapers, internet, even TV), but more so on information/encyclopaedial websites such as Wikipedia.

Anecdotally it jumped out at me on Wikipedia articles where you might find a... feminist.. "connection", where one would surmise ones maiden name is of more specific import with feminists.

Anyway, I have been googling a lot but unable to find anyone else who has noticed/posted about "this", and it stirs my interest.

So, a) what is the etymology specifically for English speaking countries (ie USA UK Australia) of the words née/nee

And b) (Perhaps this is should go on Philosophy?) Can someone speculate as to the reason for the perceived rise in use of née/nee on informational/encyclopaedial sites/resources.


Question (a): née is the female past participle of the French word naître meaning "to be born*. English has borrowed the word from French with the meaning "born with the name". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, née in this sense is attested since at least 1758, and nee (without the accent) since the late 19th century.

All attestations in the OED are from them from British English speakers, and I have no information available on the etymology of the word in American or Australian English.

Question (b): If I was to speculate on the reasons for the perceived rise of the word's frequency, my guess would be confirmation bias: for whatever reason, the word came to your attention at one point, and since then, you have started noticing it in other places, thus giving you the impression that it's being used more often everywhere even though you only perceive it more often now.

It is not unlikely that the starting point was, indeed, Wikipedia. The portal encourages the use of the word in its guidelines for articles about women when referring to the maiden name of women who have changed their last name after marriage.

  • Think I'll accept that, you are probably right although I'd love to dig through the Wikipedia.org archives and do frequency analysis on both of them and see if it actually has increased in use in the last 5 years :) – Joshua D'Alton Jun 16 '16 at 9:23

You asked for its origin: It means 'born' in French, and it's feminine by virtue of the added "-e". "Née" is used in English when stating a married woman's maiden-name. "Né" would be masculine, but it isn't traditional for a man to change his last name upon marriage, so that explains its absence. (Compare the woman's name "Renée", which means 'born again' in the Christian sense, and the man's name "René".

I have always seen it (in the USA), in both contemporary and historical (especially genealogical) sources, and hadn't perceived an increase in its frequency. I propose it could be simply that Wikipedia has exploded with biographical details over recent years.

  • Maybe I mean the wrong thing. But I mean "how it came about to be used in English" - ie first used by John Smith in 1901 in Herald Sun.. type thing. @ Wikipedia - I don't think so, at least not my anecdotal experience over the last 10 years of wiki-wandering (damn,... urbandictionary entry is only from 2009, I probably coined the term long before that!!), I've not noticed any more bios really. And not just when I'm looking through articles related to people, but just in general. But yes maybe those bio details are starting to be filled in. (sure i used to see maiden name though....) – Joshua D'Alton Jun 15 '16 at 5:24
  • Dictionary.com says 1750-60 is when it entered English, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was in English before that. Remember, France conquered England in 1066, and French was the official language of England for 200-300 years after that. When English became again the language of England, many French words were thrust into it. – Paul L New Jr Jun 16 '16 at 17:14

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