A maiden name is the last name of a woman before she gets married. It's usually the name that appears on her birth certificate. The term "birth name" is sometimes used instead.
The custom of a woman changing her name to her husband's when she marries is no longer a given. Today, many married women choose to retain their birth names for legal, business and social reasons. Sometimes a couple will change their postnuptial last names to include the surnames of both bride and groom.
According to a 2009 article in CNN Living, 80% of the women who marry in the United States choose to take their husband's last name.
Conduct a public records search, using the woman's married name and the place and date she was married. Armed with the proper information, a search of marriage records and divorce decrees in the relevant state/county should lead you to the documents themselves, which will include the maiden name or birth name sought.
Property and census records may also include maiden name. If you know the birthdate, city and state where the woman was born, it may be possible to find a birth certificate.
Some public records may be accessed online. Search for public records databases to do a national search, or go to a specific county or state website to determine whether the info you seek is provided online.
Browse social-network sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Individuals often post personal pictures and profile information that could include references to a maiden name or previous family name. Check out the friend list (and postings), which may include family members, including parents and siblings.
Access high school and college reunion sites such as Classmates.com, if you know where and when the individual matriculated or the years she attended the educational institution.
Some high school and college yearbooks can be accessed online, and browsing through the correct year could provide the maiden name you seek.
Subscribe to a genealogy website, which features access to public records and other databases that help people explore their family heritage. Ancestry.com is one such site.
Conduct a newspaper records search. If you have basic information such as the date and location of a wedding, search for a wedding announcement in the local paper. Similarly, you can search old records for birth announcements and obits. Most newspapers provide an online archive.
Conduct a background search. Online companies offer different background search "packages," ranging from £9 to £32. There may be additional fees, depending on the databases you need to access. The birth or maiden name will be included in any basic background search.