Earlier this month, news outlets reported that “Most U.S. women take husband’s name after marriage, survey finds.” I was astonished to learn that just 14% of women in opposite-sex marriages kept their own name.

I am an avid reader of the N.Y. Times wedding section which quite often includes same sex marriages. Judging from a quite small sample, name usage is about the same as in heterosexual marriages: Some take one or the other woman’s name, some hyphenate, and a smaller percentage keep their maiden name.

In studying American families the Pew Research organization asked almost 2,500 adults in opposite-sex marriages whether they changed their last name after marriage. Younger women, women with postgraduate degrees, and liberal and Democratic women were most likely to keep their maiden name. Almost a third of Hispanic women did so, too.

For many years several states did not allow women to vote or get a driver’s license or credit card unless they carried her husband’s name. Laws changed in the 1970s but, as the Pew survey shows, not that many women did.

Reasons to Keep One’s Birth Name

1. An aspect of women’s liberation, as in “I am my own person and not Mrs. Him.”

2. Maintaining identification with one’s own heritage, such as Jane Ramirez not wanting to become Jane Miller.

3. Maintaining a well-established professional reputation that is not confused or erased by taking a new name.

A researcher on the topic of name changes in the U.K. identified two main reasons women’s take on their husband’s name: tradition and “historical connection to a patriarchal society.” To me that seems pretty much the same!

Reasons to Use One’s Husband’s Name or Hyphenate

1. Tradition!

2. A new husband’s preference or insistence.

3. A desire for certain legal papers, such as a credit card in one’s married name.

4. A desire to keep one’s heritage in one’s name, even if it becomes something as odd as Joan Murphy-Mao.

Not mentioned in the Pew study or in other studies of name practices as a reason to change one’s name or not to is the sound of a name to American/English ears. When I married back in the 60s, my birth name was just as inharmonious as my spouse-to-be’s name. I thought, “I want to keep my name but why bother to put up a fight?”

As new generations grow up and marry, it will be interesting to see whether and how name trends will change.

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