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Another Reason Institutionalized Couplehood SUCKS October 7, 2009

Posted by Onely in Academic Alert!, As If!, Just Saying., Look What Google Barfed Up.
Tags: , , , ,

Because it breeds sexism!

According to an 11 August 2009 article in USA Today, fifty percent of Americans think that a woman should be required by the federal government to take her husband’s last name

How. F&king. Scary. The institution of marriage–and I’m talking about the federally sponsored institution–allows people to put men and women in boxes according to roles defined hundreds of years ago, when things were very different in society (no good birth control, no good jobs for women, no IPod Nano). 

The study was done by researchers from Indiana University and the University of Utah, who asked “about 815 people a combination of multiple choice and open-ended questions to come up with the find”. The USA Today article doesn’t say exactly who the respondents were. My sister–possibly in an attempt to get me to stop hyperventilating–pointed out that given the involvement of U of Utah, there might have been a large number of Mormons participating, which would possibly skew the results toward a more conservative view of gender roles (not that we know much about Mormonism). 

I’m afraid it’s more likely that the researchers–presumably not fools themselves–selected from a relatively wide demographic more representative of the nation than, say, Mormon college students. I wanted to do the Bella DePaulo thing and go to the original study, but I couldn’t find it after a search of ASAnet and EBSCO and U of Indiana, and I was too weak from the hyperventilating to continue looking further. If anyone knows where  I can go to read the original study write-up, please let me know. Otherwise, I will be forced to continue to view 50 percent of my country’s population as ignorant dinks. Help help! 

And lest you think I’m being a little harsh, check out some of these quotes from survey respondents, as related to the New York Daily Mail by lead researcher Linda Hamilton: 

When the respondents were asked why they felt women should change their name after the wedding, Hamilton says, “They told us that women should lose their own identity when they marry and become a part of the man and his family. This was a reason given by many.”

“They said the mailman would get confused and that society wouldn’t function as well if women did not change their name,” Hamilton says.

“Asked if they thought of a lesbian couple as a family, those who believe that women should take their husband’s name are less likely to say yes,” she says. “If you’re more liberal about the name change issue, you tend to include a larger population in the definition of family.”

According to the USA TODAY article, Hamilton, a sociology researcher at Indiana University, found the finding “really interesting”. She makes an excellent point: “Because [the name change issue] is not politicized, people just answer the question without really thinking about it. It sort of taps into people’s views about all kinds of things.” Did the survey yank back the veil of political correctness and reveal the pock-marked face of America? Ok, that’s a slightly sexist metaphor, but at least I’m not saying the pockmarked bride should be required to take her husband’s name!  

My ex-boyfriend R said that if we got married, he’d want me to take his last name as a sign of caring and commitment (or some such). I disagreed and fortunately the conversation–which remained relatively light–wandered to  other topics. R was raised in a conservative household (they watched Rush Limbaugh), and although he eventually moved much further leftward, obviously he was not as far left as I was on women’s issues.

Copious Readers, here are your discussion questions: Do you know how to find out who the 800+ study respondents were? Should more women be encouraged to keep their last names? Why don’t more men change their last names to express care and commitment toward their wives? When a gay couple gets married, does one person change their name and if so, how do they decide who? If not, then can we use these gay couples as examples of how to avoid logistical difficulties in a two-name family? If one train leaves from New York travelling west at 50 m.p.h. and another train leaves Houston travelling northeast at. . .  



1. specialkphd - October 8, 2009

I am ambilivent about the last name thing. Yes, I do think it communicates a family unit, a way to easily recognize a life long singular identity…because that is really what marriage is, the uniting of two identities for their mutual benefit while retaining individual expressions and “light”…and the couples I admire are ones that both take each other’s last names….but then think about this, Shakespeare asked
“what’s in a name?”
Seriously, my last name, what exactly does it entail? My mother? My father? Not really my family anymore
One thing I probably won’t do is take someone’s last name, for professional clarity and continuity.

Rachel - October 8, 2009

But then, why doesn’t the husband take on the wife’s lastname? It’s that it’s only going one way that’s so backwards (aside from the idea that marriage and only marriage can merge people into a unit…)

Onely - October 9, 2009

Exactly–like how the term “cougar” is offensive largely because there is no corresponding term for older men “preying” on younger women.

2. Lauri - October 8, 2009

horrifying indeed!!!

the name change thing really hits a nerve with me. I think it’s the “identity loss” thing. I hate that the “proper” way to address an envelope is “Mr. & Mrs. John Smith.”

Interesting that your ex thought it was a sign of love and commitment. I was discussing the issue with a friend who recently get married, and I said I wouldn’t do it. She said, “yeah I don’t like it either, but guys get REALLY upset if you want to keep your name.”

Hello, guys get REALLY upset about this? Why? I guess I wouldn’t get myself in the position to be faced with this problem because I probably wouldn’t be marrying someone who got upset about that and didn’t understand the implications of a woman changing her name.

3. Singlutionary - October 8, 2009

Ahhhhh. Where to begin.

I lived in Utah, and yes, while there are feminist mormons (enough to have their own fairly awesome blog), most folks in Utah tend to follow the traditional ways when it comes to marriage, gender roles and changing names.

I understand from a feminist point of view how wrong it is that women have historically changed their last names. When it comes to theory, I get it. If you change your last name you’ve (historically) renounced your own family and given up your identity to become part of another person’s (who doesn’t have to give up any part of his identity). It also makes women harder to locate, makes it harder to be successful. The last name thing is why many women who have been very successful in history have disappeared from history books: they changed their last name when they married and nobody could find them after that.

I am not too into marriage because I feel that it is an inherently sexist.

I would not change my last name.

I am also the product of two parents, married 35 years who, to this day still have different last names. If someone calls and asks for “Mrs. Dad’s Last Name” my mom tells them there is nobody there by that name and hangs up on them.

I also have the habit of “nicknaming” the spouse or partner of my friends with my friend’s last name. Even if my friend is female.

I think that MOST women still take their husbands last name, if for no other reason, its simply a battle that they don’t want to fight.

I think people get upset about women NOT taking a spouse’s name because it feels awkward and uncomfortable to “deal” with the two last names. It actually isn’t. It’s just different. And you have to say: “Cindy and Bob” instead of “The Joneses”

But we’re also talking about people who intend to have children. And then you have to say “Cindy and Bob and Sally and Bobby and Sam and Catherine and Jane”.

If you’re a woman who is getting married who is going to have children, you’re faced with three options:

1. Take your husband’s last name and have one title for the whole family.

2. Keep your last name but allow your kids to have your spouse’s last name (this is the most common way people handle kid’s last names). When you go pick up your kids at school you’ll still be referred to as “Mrs. Kid’s last name” and if you give your last name and it doesn’t match the kids, the school secretary will frown on you. Basically you’re the family name outcast.

3. Keep your last name and hyphenate your kid’s last name so that they go around their whole lives explaining why they’re not married and have employers object to having to have two last names on the business cards (this is me).

I really appreciate and admire my parents for keeping their last names and going against the grain and starting a hyphen revolution. Although it is cumbersome. There isn’t really a solution.

And what happens when I (theoretially) meet a totally awesome feminist man who wants to hyphenate our last names?

Well, then we have Mr. and Mrs. Singlutionary-Treehugger-Lightsaber-Teapot.

So obviously we need some innovation. We need a last name revolution. Because Mrs. Singlutionary-Treehugger-Lightsaber-Teapot isn’t going to fit very well on my tax return.

What if we just change both our names. Mr and Mrs Singlutionary. I like the sound of that.

Onely - October 9, 2009

Employers having a problem with putting two names on a business card? Really? eesh.

What about fusion names? Bob Jones and Shirley Smith could have a kid named Nancy Jith. And then another kid named Earl Smones. Kudos to your parents for being -utionaries! And especially to your mom for choosing to fight the battle (though I can easily understand women who choose not to fight it–what a pain).


4. Lauri - October 9, 2009

more comments from the peanut gallery…

1) I have some rather conservative cousins who like to see me as the family hippy treehugging feminist liberal…I remember several years ago at a holiday dinner, one of them just turned to me and said “are you going to change your name when you get married?” (notice the assumption that I’d get married…) and I was like, “I dunno, I don’t think so, why would I? Lauri XXX is my name. I’ve had it all my life.” The look of…I don’t know…confusion? contempt? frustration? on my cousin’s face that resulted…

2) as an aside, does anyone else hate when someone friends you on facebook and you have no idea who it is because it’s their husband’s last name and the photo is a picture of their kid? It’s like their real identity has just vanished. And these are always people with common names like “Kate” or “Kelly” that could be anyone of like 200 people you’ve met in your life.

3) I have a very ethnic last name. That’s part of my identity. To me that is another big reason not to change. I can’t imagine suddenly becoming Lauri Pennypacker or something.

4) I have this habit of remember off-the-cuff stories people tell me years later…anyway, I remember this one teacher I had talking about how his wife had a different last name, and one day their little son came running home saying, “guess what! billy’s mom and dad have the SAME last name!” ha! I love that story.

Onely - October 9, 2009

Lauri (Pennypacker), we love our peanut gallery!! = ) = )

So as I understand it, your cousin knew what your answer would be ahead of time (because you’re the family HTFL), so she set you with that question up in order to hear your answer out loud, so that she could make the face she knew she was going to make even before the asked the question. How very quantum!

I think I had someone with a changed name friend me, but I think she wrote an accompanying note saying “It’s me, so-and-so (former name)”. I can’t really remember. (I think if you friend someone you should write an accompanying note, whether you’ve changed your name or not.)


5. SpinningLeese - October 9, 2009

I’ve long been bothered by the name change thing (in addition to many other things that one “should” do when whey get married).

One of my best friends didn’t taker her husband’s last name and immediately the feedback from everyone conveyed the thought that she must be some kind of selfish, uncaring person for not wanting his name. I’ve always wondered why?

She was always independent growing up and she has remained independent in her marriage, with a lot of hobbies and interests that she pursues on her own. She thrives on keeping her own life in tact even after combining it with another person, but that doesn’t mean that her marriage is suffering. In fact, it seems that she has one of the healthiest marriages I’ve ever seen because they allow each other the opportunity to NOT lose themselves in the relationship and become aimless when apart. She’s a conservative.

My other friend is a bleeding-heart liberal and couldn’t wait to change her last name to her husband’s. As a school teacher, I think she giggles to herself every time she hears the students say Mrs. “New Last Name.” It’s like one million affirmations per day that she is forever combined with this other person, and it seems to me that most of her identity is tied up in being this Mrs. person whose entire life is centered on things they do together. When they’re apart, she talks about him constantly. Whenever she tells me of their struggles together as a couple, I get the feeling that the tension comes from being too, “we” and not enough “me” and “you” – I think there needs to be that space for two people to have two lives, even if they happen to share one together.

If I get married, I don’t know if I will change my name. Having been an athlete in some form for the past 16 years, I am used to hearing and seeing my last name on race numbers and results boards. As a writer, my bylines have all used my last name. I like my family, and I like having an official word that forever ties me to them. I might not be famous or significant outside of my own small circles, but my name is a “brand” in my soul and I don’t want to be branded any differently than the woman I’ve been all my life.

If I marry, I will love my husband completely – but it will not need to be proven by anything as superficial as a name – or with a ring, for that matter.

Right now the man I’m dating is divorced – so if I were to change my name with him down the road, I would be forever reminded that in this world there is another woman who is already branded with his name. I don’t like that idea – makes me feel like I should just wear her wedding dress, too. I’m not her, I don’t want her last name. I’m not someone’s other half, either. I am me: FIrst Name, Last Name.

Bottom line, I like who I am. I’ve been on this planet for 30 years with the same name and am proud of who I am and where I’ve come from. My name has been signed to every other important piece of documentation that’s been in my life so far – so why should that change just because I find a man I want to spend the rest of my life with?

And then if you break up, you still have your name. You still have “you.” Having your ex’s last name must be like having a box of his stuff you can’t return to him, that sits in the middling of the living room floor for you to trip over from now until the end of time.

Sounds awesome.

Onely - October 9, 2009

I know, I always thought it was odd that divorced women didn’t immediately change back to their maiden names after splitting from their husbands, sort of like “eek eek get it off me!!”, you know? I always assumed that it was too much of a legal hassle or something, or maybe if you’ve been married for a long time it’s hard to recognize your *maiden* name on a scoreboard anymore.

I was so interested to read about your conservative-yet-Onely friend and your liberal-yet-uebercoupley friend. I guess we can have politically conservative people who are socially liberal and politically liberal people who are socially conservative. Not sure those are the right terms, but in any case your friends are great reminders that just because someone is open to change (definition of a liberal?) in one arena doesn’t mean that aren’t holding on to regressive, outdated ideas in another, like your politically liberal “we” friend.


Lauri - October 9, 2009

I’ve often wondered that about divorces too. I remember back in high school and stuff, when someone’s mom had their ex-husband’s name, I didn’t quite know what to call her. Like calling her Mrs. Smith didn’t seem right because she wasn’t really a “Mrs.” anymore, especially not a Mrs. to Mr. Smith, you know what I mean?

6. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - October 11, 2009

Traditions are hard to change because by definition they’ve been around so long that no one really questions them, and they’re usually built into various institutions, making it a hassle to work around them.

To be honest, I don’t really have a problem with this particular tradition, although chills shot down my spine when I read that 50% of those survey respondents thought women should be denied the choice to maintain that tradition or not. And then they’re reasoning that “women should lose their own identity”? That’s so creepy it sounds like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale! However, if a woman wants to take her husband’s name, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that any more than there’s anything wrong with her keeping her name, hyphenating her name, giving her name to him, or combining her name with his. I think the quality of a relationship is built on things that are much more consequential than people’s names.

If I ever get married, though, I’ll be all too happy to change my last name, which has been a source of embarrassment to me my whole life. Can’t wait for an excuse to get rid of it! 😉

Onely - October 11, 2009

HAHA I wish we could know your last name!

7. Questnet - October 13, 2009

I wish to keep my last name too. As my parents have 3 girls. So how do we continue the family’s name as we do not have any boys to carry the last name?

Hmm…a great topic to ponder

8. Onadrought - October 20, 2009

And what about Mrs and Miss. Aren’t these outdated too. Why don’t we just have Ms?

9. singlethirtysomething - October 22, 2009

“eek eek get it off me” – LOL!! I have several friends whose parents divorced and their mothers retained their married names so that they’d match with their kids. I’d be in the ‘eek eek’ camp though for sure – although I will not change my last name if I marry. I’ve been ME for 35 years and that’s my identity. I also love my last name.

I also agree with @onadrought – all women should be Ms. Usually people assume I am a Mrs and I feel a bit stupid telling them ‘erm, actually it’s ‘Miss’ so I usually let it ride.

Onely - October 23, 2009

Oh, matching with the kids–I didn’t think about that, thanks.

10. NA - January 13, 2010

2009 Hamilton, Laura, Claudia Geist, and Brian Powell. “Mapping Gender Attitudes with Views toward Marital Name Change.” Under Review.

Click to access HamiltonCV.pdf

11. M - September 16, 2011

I’ve been reading through your blog. Good stuff!

In Quebec, it is actually illegal for a woman to change her name after marriage since 1981. You have to use your birth name for contracts, credit cards, legal proceedings, voting, etc…

Onely - September 17, 2011

Really?! How interesting. I googled it and got this, about a woman challenging the law because she wants to take her husband’s name: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=72ddc06b-4660-4b92-8b92-3a26ae24b377&k=5969

“The civil law reform took place shortly after the creation of the Quebec Charter of Rights in which equality between men and women was clearly stated, recalls Alain Roy, a family law professor at the University of Montreal.

‘It was a logical follow-up to translate that equality into name attribution. And it was a highly symbolic gain for the feminist movement,’ said Roy in an interview.”

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