70% of Americans believe a woman should change her name after marriage, and half of the citizens of the United States believe a woman should be required by law to change her name after marriage. Those are insane statistics and beliefs… right? A recent article in the Gender Issues Journal raised some eyebrows, and as a name-change expert who contributed to a name change journal article on the topic of name-change predictors, I was very curious to learn more about the study. Here’s what I learned.
Ms. Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer’s abstract states that she surveyed a diverse sample of 1,243 individuals to evaluate how committed they think a woman is as a wife by her last name choice, and whether a woman’s last name choice causes individuals to hold her to different standards (known as a backlash effect.) I understand the key life variables that impact a woman’s name change decision, but have not studied how her choice might impact how others view her. So this is interesting sociological stuff. I’m also curious if Emily’s double last name is from her parents or due to her own married name change decision.
Schafer writes about the suggestions that Hillary Rodham using her maiden name contributed to Bill Clinton’s loss in his 1980 re-election campaign. Her name change to Hillary Rodham Clinton did happen afterwards, so there may be a kernel of truth or societal pressure there. Name change is a highly controversial topic before you sprinkle in politics, so on page one this journal article is explosive!
The Good News:
This study found among women and highly educated men, women’s surname choice seems to have little effect on their perceptions of women as a wife or the standards to which she is held in marriage. So, if you’re surrounded by highly educated women and men you won’t subject yourself to negative views if you keep your maiden name.
The Bad News:
Schaffer found “among men with low education, a woman with a last name that is different than her husband’s is seen as being a less committed wife than a woman whose last name is the same as her husband’s. Further, less educated men feel that a woman who didn’t take her husband’s name should be forgiven for fewer days late than a woman who has the same last name as her husband’s. And they believe that the woman’s husband would be more justified in divorcing her for her perceived neglect of the marriage (as measured through repeated lateness).” So, if you spend a majority of your time with under-educated men and don’t change your name after marriage you stand a high likelihood of being viewed as a bad wife, deserving of less forgiveness, and those guys would totally understand if your husband divorced you for neglecting your marriage.
Name-Change Expert Opinion:
Because I founded an online name-change service to help women change their names after marriage, most people assume I’m a gung ho name change advocate. Yes, I do make money on name change, but I am also a female founder in tech. I view name change after marriage as a personal choice. It reflects each woman’s situation, heritage, and personal style. Name change should not be correlated with being committed to a relationship, nor should it influence forgiveness… something that is vital to a healthy, long-lasting marriage. In my opinion we need to be having open discussions with our families and peers about name change as a personal choice, not a law.