Where Does the Word Née Come From?

We use French words all the time without thinking too much about their literal meaning. Crème brûlée, for example, translates to “burnt cream,” which sounds considerably less appetizing than the dessert actually is; and déjà-vu means “already seen,” which needs no further explanation. The word née is another French word we use all the time. Its literal translation is simply “born,” from the verb naître (“to be born”). The -ée ending indicates that it’s modifying a feminine noun, which helps explain why English speakers have historically used it when mentioning a woman’s maiden name. So when you say “Jane Smith, née Brown,” you’re basically saying “Jane Smith, born Brown.” If you’re referring to a man who has changed his name, you should technically use né — the masculine ending — the same way that you would use fiancé for a man engaged to be married — whereas fiancée is the feminine form. Oddly, né hasn’t quite caught on in the same way, most likely because when the term entered the English language, people were only really using it to talk about women’s maiden names.