• 70 per cent of American adults thought that women should take on their husband’s name once they marry. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Around 70 per cent of adults in the US think that a woman should take on their husband's surname after marriage, and half of these think it should be enforced by the law.
By
Mariam Digges

29 Mar 2017 - 4:03 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2017 - 10:20 AM

Many were shocked to discover back in 2006 that over 70 per cent of American adults thought that women should take on their husband’s name once they marry. Even more alarming was that about half of these people believed that it should be required by law.

In practice, this would be interesting to carry out: mass fines dished out to newlyweds who stand by their maiden name? Or straight from the arrival gates at the airport, post honeymoon, and into remand.

A new study released this month has delved into the 2006 survey to shed more light on the findings. Published in the journal, Gender Issues, the paper was a direct reference to the outcry over US politician Hillary initially keeping her maiden name after marrying Bill Clinton. Folks even went as far as blaming Bill’s loss in the 1980 gubernatorial re-election campaign on her decision to keep her maiden name.

Study author and Portland State University Sociology professor, Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer, surveyed 1,200 adults, quizzing them on a fictional scenario. In the hypothetical, a woman is working long hours, hoping to be promoted in her job, and her husband starts to resent the extra hours and the fact he needs to contribute more around the house while his wife is at work.

Whose surname does baby get if you're unmarried?
Once a straightforward decision, today parents are faced with a number of factors when deciding on a surname for their baby, but one book is delivering inspiration from across the globe.

Study participants were asked to evaluate the working woman’s situation, responding to queries about how many hours they felt she should be working and whether it warranted her husband asking for a divorce. The only anomaly was that some participants were told this woman’s name was Carol Sherman (her maiden name), a second group was given Carol Sherman-Cook, and another group learned about Carol Cook (who had changed her name to her husband’s).

Shafer observed that the results were dependent on demographics, with less-educated men more believing that a woman who kept her maiden name was not as committed to the marriage and her hubby filing for divorce was justified. For the group of highly educated men and women, the woman’s surname had little to no effect on their views of said, hardworking woman.

Sydney-sider Mina Zaki always intended to keep her family name.

“For me, it was a mixture of things, such as the fact that my simple, four-letter surname was a hell of a lot easier than my husband’s seven-letter, way-more-difficult-to-pronounce surname,” Zaki tells SBS.

“I also felt as though changing my name would change my identity entirely and I quite liked who I was.”

Shafer observed that the results were dependent on demographics, with less-educated men more believing that a woman who kept her maiden name was not as committed to the marriage and her hubby filing for divorce was justified. 

For Zaki, who is a member of Australia’s Muslims for Progressive Values group, religion and spirituality also played a part in her decision.

“I am Muslim and from an Islamic perspective, yet contrary to popular practice, a woman is known as their father’s daughter. Women in Islam carry their father’s name for blood or tribal lineage throughout their lives, despite any change in marital status,” Zaki says.

The idea of holding onto your father’s name after marriage isn’t universally recognised within the Islamic community and more determined by cultural or tribal practice, but it was important to Zaki regardless.

And the mother of three received little backlash from her Afghan community when she decided against taking on her husband’s name.

“Maybe when my children were newborns at hospital and were referred to by my surname instead of my husband’s – that didn’t go down well with my husband’s family,” she recalls, “but they weren't overly offended by it once they knew our kids would have their surname.

“I also felt as though changing my name would change my identity entirely and I quite liked who I was.”

“Of course I didn't mention that they would have my surname as their middle names!”

In the recently published study, Shafer cites the most common reason (accounting for almost half of the cases) given by those who supported women changing their name was a belief that they should “prioritise their marriage and their family ahead of themselves”.

"My work shows that women can face backlash at home as well if they're not acting 'properly' as wives," Shafer told US pop culture site Broadly.

Meanwhile, Zaki, like many others, thinks the choice should be up to the individual.

“Any form of coercion, whether it be the questioning of their devotion to their husbands or the values and norms of cultural practices, is ridiculous.”

Love this story? Follow the author on Twitter or Instagram.

Why splitting housework is key to improving gender equality
Most couples agree that housework should be shared, but the reality is women shoulder most of the burden. But those who lean out of the domestic sphere can enjoy the economic and health benefits of not having to scrub the toilet.
The pains of having a hyphenated name
Robert Burton-Bradley describes the daily frustrations of selfishly having a "two name" surname.
A child's name is its entire spelling future
In the baby name game, parents get to invent the rules. Children live with the consequences. Is that okay with you?