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Women Are Now Taking Hubby's Last Name

Vivia Chen

May 16, 2013

©-Katrina-Brown_iStockphotoI'm trying to keep a lid on it. Not be judgmental. And restrain myself from blurting out comments like "Women are such wusses—no wonder they're not rising to the top."

This is what's getting me hot and bothered: The Daily Beast reports that Facebook finds that a vast majority of women are now taking their husband's last name—confirming a steady trend that's been documented in other studies. Facebook looked at "14 million married females, ranging in age from 20 to 79, who are currently active on Facebook" and finds this result:

Facebook determined that 65 percent of women in their 20s and 30s changed their name in marriage. The percentage continues to rise for women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s—to 68 percent, 75 percent, and then 80 percent. While the data does not account for those who change their names legally, but not on Facebook (and vice versa), it reflects that for the married female population, keeping your maiden name is so last decade.

Did you hear that—"keeping your maiden name is so last decade"?! I guess that makes me officially stuck in the 20th century. And you know what else? I embrace the F-word: feminist. So, yeah, I'm a total dinosaur.

Honestly, I don't get why a grown woman would take her hubby's last name. Yes, I know the usual reasons. I covered them in a past post:

The "family unity" argument—that it's nice for family members to share the same name. And the "practical" argument—that it's easier to fit "The Drapers" or "The Cleavers" on the mailbox.

After seeing so many of friends divorce over the years, I'm not too impressed by these "family" reasons. (I have a friend who's been married three times, and she keeps all her ex-husbands' names for the "sake of the children.")

Indeed, the women interviewed by The Daily Beast offer some pretty lame reasons about why they changed their names. One 30-year old woman says it was unavoidable: "It's part of the transition from 'me' to 'we,' " adding, "I was proud to take my husband's last name."

Another 25-year-old woman gushes:

It’s exciting! I think women like taking a new name because it is a new start. I get to take these new years of my life to define who I am as "Mrs. Julia Hunsaker Martin." It’s a different Julia than the one before.

Unfortunately, only women seem to buy this silly idea that marriage (along with the name change) is magically transformative—something akin to marrying Prince Charming and getting instantly zapped from a shabby parlor maid into a beautiful princess. I can't imagine a guy saying the same thing.

I see this name-change trend as playing into the larger retro phenomenon. (How many times have we heard the warning that women will regret it if they fail to nab a husband in time, pop out some babies, and put the brakes on their careers when home conflicts with career?) Despite all of women's achievements, there's still a large pull for women to hew to the traditional path—and that extends to affluent, well-educated women too.

So back to the basic question: Why are bright young women taking their husband's names in the 21st century? Dr. Christina Lucia Stasia, president of the Lucy Stone League, tells The Daily Beast: "It’s not that women aren’t smart enough. It’s that they’re conditioned from the day they were born to think that, as women, it’s their job to take their husband’s last name."

I think Stasis is right: Women are conditioned to look up to men as the leader of the pack. We all do so in varying degrees.

But, really, shouldn't we know better by now?

Related posts: "Isn't It Romantic?"; "So You Want to Be a Housewife."

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Comments

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I think her point is that its not actually an arbitrary convention, but rooted in the commodification of women. For example, you are a "maiden" until your father "gives" you away to your "husband" who gives you his name. People refer to husband and wives as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe many times (as if the wife is defined by her husband's name). We *think* its our own choice, but because we are socialized to thinking its a norm, we do it, and we give the excuse that its "honoring our husbands" -- come on, its really not. If your husband really wants you to have his name and gets angry when you don't (which happens often), you know you have a problem.

Personally, I like my last name. It flows well with the my first name. And its rare but not complicated. If my husband has a boring or unattractive last name, I'm keeping mine.

My experience with choosing to take my husband's name was completely different from the reasons you've described here. After doing it, I felt completely empowered because it was something I chose to do. I didn't choose to take my father's name. I guess the argument can be made that I could have equally chosen to take a completely different last name from either my husband or my father, but that's not the point. Yes, it honoured my husband; but mostly, it was me choosing how to define myself.

I love this column, however, I have to agree - I thought the point of feminism was to have a choice. Why have an issue with this trend at all? My father legally changed his last name before he married my mother, so I didn't lose anything or give away my own family name of origin by taking my husband's name when we married. Each woman's decision is personal, and I truly enjoy having the right to decide what's best for me and my family. The next step is that we woman to do not criticize each other for our own personal decisions.

I also take exception to the dataset used - there's so much room for error. Some people don't list marital status; some provide only a first name; some could be lying. If we could know for sure that instances of those examples are omitted from the data used, then it might be more reliable.

gbtw, I'm surprised to hear of your difficulties. I've maintained my own name throughout our 32-year marriage. And we have three children, who all have my husband's last name (with mine as their middle) - no hyphenation here. I wonder where you live and where you've traveled. We live in the NYC metro area, and have traveled western Europe and Jamaica, and never had a problem.

I don't think there's any reason to get up in arms over this issue. Every woman's reason for changing or not changing her name is personal. Who are we to judge? In my case, I changed my last name around the time of our 10th wedding anniversary. My husband (and children) have a very long, challenging, unusual name. Mine was shorter but also not "Smith". It makes life infinitely easier to all share the same name. I personally don't feel like I gave up anything.

I hyphenated my husband's name with my own. What a nightmare that was. That was in the early 90's and people did not seem to get it. I quickly reverted to my own name which, frankly, is more memorable and interesting than his. Later, our son got the hyphenated name, poor kid. But I wanted my name somewhere in there - I did bear him, after all.

I thought the point of feminism was to have a choice. Why have an issue with this trend at all?

i kept my name. and i'll say it's a pain to have a child with a different last name. harassed traveling to foreign countries and having to prove it's my child. i now know to bring a birth certificate. confusion from other parents over the tiniest of things, like my email address. they all know my daughter's last name, but not mine. it would be easier if we just had the same name. i still consider changing mine to match hers, but i have lived so long with my name that it would seem weird to be called something else. and i didn't want to give my child my last name. bad history there. i don't see a better solution, especially as you want to keep track of ancestry... having a steady system of new family takes on dad's last name makes sense. it's all just an inconvenient thing, and i don't think it needs to indicate any feminist setbacks- that one might choose to take on husband's name.


As a full-time attorney feminist mother of two, I take issue with this post. I took my husband's name in large part because he comes from an intact family and I do not. Part of separating myself, as an adult, from my parents' family meant changing my name so that he and I could start our own family, sans baggage. I also think that his father was a better parental role model than mine was able to be, and I wanted to honor his father by taking their family name. It is something I struggled with, but ultimately, it was a way to linguistically, at least, cut myself off from my family's dysfunction. I guess we could have made up a new name for both of us? But come on.


Posted by: Becky |

I hadn't ever thought of wives taking their husband's last names as an issue before. Even after reading this my feathers aren't particularly ruffled by it. It just seems like an arbitrary convention to me.

so the natural evolution of this argument is that the third generation will have 4 last names, and so on and so forth.

The terms mountain and molehill seem to have some bearing here.

By the way, there are definite regional differences. The New York Times wedding pages show maybe half each way. Down south here in Texas keeping our own names is still by far the exception.

I, too, just do not get it. When our family answers the phone, we say our name - "Hello; this is Mary Smith" (solving the "Huxtable Residence" quandry). As for what to name the kids, we're not the only family we know to give one kid mom's last name and the other dad's, keeping both names "alive" instead of losing one to history. The great thing is there are lots of options in the 21st century, including traditional, but personally why the woman would want to give away her own family name of origin I do not understand. My husband wouldn't dream of taking mine; why should I be any different?

Karen has a similar point I was going to make. I personally took my husband's last name since I don't have a very good relationship with my father & would have changed my last name sooner or later; marriage just happened to be a convenient & cheaper way to do it. I also felt it sounded better than my maiden name, which I got rid of while keeping my middle name. In NY state, the couple can even create a whole new last name for themselves that has none of the family baggage attached. I wonder how many couples have done that.

I don't think me taking my husband's name makes me any less of a feminist; it's not like I'm Mrs. [Husband's first name][Husband's last name], which does offend my feminist sensibilities. Plus, if I'd hated the name I would have opted for something else.

The name also helps for kids considering I have one nephew whose last name is different from everyone else's since his father died & his mother remarried then had 2 more kids. He's not liked being the only one with his last name.

The real problem is deciding your kid's last name. Why should it be the father's? But why saddle your child with a lengthy hyphenated name?

I'm not sure about the feminist/anti-feminist strands here, but I (female) grew up in a multi-generational home with hard-charging female role models (mom and grandma were the primary breadwinners in our home). We had 7 different last names in the household, and all I dreamt about as a kid was being able to pick up the phone, when it rang, and say "Huxtable residence" like they did on tv. If/when my fiance and I decide to tie the knot, I will take his name, because I want my life to be like the Cosby show, even if it doesn't further the feminist agenda (sorry Vivia).

Yeah, that’s a dubious data set. Since your name on facebook =/= your legal name, think it’s questionable to draw any conclusion. There is incentive for young brides who took their husband’s name to keep their maiden name on profiles, for young people (20s to 30s) who grew up on the internet have more robust online identities to preserve than older generations ON THE WHOLE.

I think of it as the newly married woman having the choice to keep her father's name (that she was born into) or to take her husband's name (that she chose to marry presumably). Sometimes the man takes the woman's name and sometimes they blend the names to crate an entirely new one too. Not really anti-feminist, just one of many choices.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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