A woman taking a man's name in marriage is actually still a huge deal
Some traditions are hard to shake, especially when it comes to things as broadly socially engrained as marriage. But that doesn’t mean old traditions aren’t butting up against modern progress. According to a new study, taking a man’s name in marriage is still a really controversial issue and has more serious consequences when it comes to systemic sexism than you might think.
A new study published last week found that when women don’t take a man’s name in marriage, it can change the power dynamic within the relationship. The study, which was done by researchers from the University of Nevada, was made up of three experiments, all of which asked participants to describe a man in a fictional relationship in which the woman didn’t take his surname.
The good and bad news is that these outsiders all judged a man whose woman didn’t take his last name as being more submissive, nurturing, and other character traits that are more often used to describe women. Rachael Robnett, one of the lead authors of the study, said in a press release accompanying the study in Eureka Alerts, “The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men.”
So maybe it’s time to start questioning this tradition, like so many others that hold people back and shove them into little gendered boxes.
Like so many other traditions surrounding marriage, a lot of them are really unnecessary these days. Back in the day, a woman couldn’t open a line of credit, raise a kid, or do any number of things without a husband. Symbolically, taking the name was a sign that the woman was being “given” to a man from her father, like a piece of property. That’s why the father customarily walks his daughter down the aisle to hand over his daughter. Although other countries have similar, equally sexist marriage traditions, a lot of countries make it illegal for a woman to change her name, so this last name business isn’t some universal thing.
There really is no practical reason anymore for a woman to take a man’s name in marriage, except that it’s what people have been doing since the dawn of time, which is not a great excuse. If anything, there are way more reasons for her to keep her last name, especially in the name of her career, a business or brand, or just in case she wants her old roommate to be able to find her on social media.
Yet people lose their collective mind when a woman decides to keep her name.
According to a study done last year, about 94 percent of women still take their husband’s name in marriage. A 2011 study found that over 50 percent of Americans think a woman should be forced to change her name and another 10 percent believe that a woman isn’t as devoted to her marriage if she doesn’t take the man’s name.
Although a 2015 study found that among wealthier, educated demographics, women are becoming increasingly more likely to keep their maiden name. Still, this new study is sort of interesting because it shows that those men who lose their minds when a woman decides to keep her own name are sort of right: People are judging them and their marriage.
According to a poll done by Men’s Health, 63 percent of men thought it emasculated them if their wife didn’t take their name. One guy wrote, “It sounds like she’s trying to hang onto her “single person” identity and not identify with the fact that she’s married now.” Another echoed that sentiment saying, “I’d like her to want to be a part of my family and be proud of our name.”
However, men weren’t willing to make the same sacrifice in the name of good old monogamous family values.
In the same poll, over 90 percent said there’s no way in hell that they’d take their wife’s last name. One said, “My name is part of who I am,” while others said that it just wasn’t manly to take a woman’s name or incorporate it into their own. Luckily, there were at least some respondents who added that they knew it was hypocritical to say as much, but that’s just the way the world works.
But it doesn’t have to be! Now that same-sex marriage is legal, some of these traditional gender dynamics when it comes to marriage will hopefully start to shift a little bit, but it shouldn’t be up the LBGTQ community to model respect and equality in marriage to heterosexual couples, especially since it was an institution that many conservative, religious people didn’t want to share in the first place, for just this very reason. Marriage, in the 21st century, is about love and partnership, not property and power. Yet a lot of people still don’t see it that way.
Frankly, cisgender men and women need to get over themselves just a little bit. This most recent study is also a testament to how much toxic masculinity has infected our culture, to the point that people assume a man is weaker or less in control of his life, and his wife, if she decides to keep her maiden name. That must be hard, but a lot more men are going to have to take one for the team if they really feel like stepping up as feminist allies and reminding their friends, family, and community that a woman keeping her name has nothing to do with her dedication as a wife or a man’s personality.
The conversation doesn’t have to be a controversial one and a woman should feel empowered to do whatever she wants with her name. It’s really just better for everyone.