“You may kiss the bride.” Getting married is a pivotal moment that comes with many life changes. One of the first big decisions couples must make is whether spouses will change their last names. Although increasingly women are choosing to keep their maiden names, and some couples have hyphenated, new research from Kristin Kelley shows that Americans still hold strong beliefs that women should take their husband’s last names.
Kelley asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 people to rate each spouse’s level of commitment to love and similarity to the “ideal” husband or wife in three different hypothetical situations: a wife taking her husband’s last name, a wife keeping her maiden name, or both the husband and wife hyphenating their last names.They found that respondents viewed women who did not take their husband’s name negatively. Specifically, respondents believed that women who kept their maiden names were 14 percent less committed and loving, and 12 percent further from the ideal wife than women who took their husband’s last name.
Respondents viewed the women who hyphenated their last names with similar skepticism, rating them as 12 percent less committed and loving, and 13 percent further from the ideal wife. These results did not appear for men who changed their names. Surprisingly, these views of women were also true of highly educated respondents who we might expect to have more egalitarian gender expectations.
These findings raise many questions–about the persistence of gendered double-standards that work against women, for example, or about how marital name changes might impact partners in non-heterosexual unions. But it is not difficult to imagine that negative attitudes towards women who don’t take their husband’s names at marriage carry over to their social and professional relationships.