Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.7, 301-306
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 301
Marital Name Changing: Delving Deeper into Women’s Reasons
Megan M. Keels, Rebecca S. Powers*
Department of Sociology, East Carolina University, Greenville, USA
Email:, *
Received September 24th, 2013; revis ed Oct obe r 24th, 2013; accepted November 1st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Megan M. Keels, Rebecca S. Powers. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Using a mixed method approach, this study examines women’s reasons for the traditional practice of
marital name changing. We utilize data collected via a questionnaire administered to first-year college
students at a southeastern US public university and data gathered from in-depth interviews with recent
college graduates. The quantitative results show that the reasons given for marital name changing are
closely tied to social norms. The results from the qualitative analyses reveal more specifically how social
norms direct the practice of marital name changing. Together the findings show that women’s perceptions
of their family’s expectations are a key reason motivating them to practice marital name changing. How-
ever, in both samples, respondents express mixed and sometimes inconsistent reasons regarding marital
name changing. Respondents emphasize the importance of adhering to the tradition while also reporting
that they did not consider marital name changing as an important issue. These findings indicate the multi-
faceted quality of the issue. Together, the results illustrate how social norms shape people’s personal de-
cision about marital name changing while also showing how the decision made by people shapes society.
Keywords: Marital Name Changing; Social Norms; Name Change; Tradition
Names are important to people, and yet adults in the US can
legally change a name with relatively little complication. There
are various reasons why someone might want to legally change
names and the majority of women do so at marriage by drop-
ping their maiden name and taking their husband’s surname
(Emens, 2007; Gooding & Kreider, 2010; Scheuble, Johnson,
& Johnson, 2012). Like other cultural traditions, marital name
changing is a multifaceted issue. On the one hand, the emphasis
on individualism in US culture implies the appropriateness of
keeping one’s birth name as a means of maintaining personal
identity and family ties. On the other hand, social norms about
marriage are unambiguous in the expectation that women
should unite themselves by name with their husband and chil-
Confirmation of the issue’s cultural salience is everywhere in
popular media outlets. For example, endorsement of traditional
marital name changing is easily found on the Internet social
media site Facebook with postings by engaged women ex-
pressing excitement at becoming a Mrs. His-Last-Name, on
Internet websites such as that sells a name-
changing service to newly married women and on various In-
ternet blogs (see e.g., postings on At the
same time, we see high profile women in a variety of occupa-
tions shun the tradition. A preference for married women re-
taining their maiden name is publicly displayed by politicians
(e.g., Sonia Sotomayor, Deborah Wasserman Schultz), hosts of
television news shows (e.g., Melissa Harris-Perry, Barbara
Walters), actresses (e.g., Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep) and
professional athletes (e.g., Kerri Walsh Jennings, Misty
May-Treanor). Thus, while the practice of marital na me chang-
ing continues to be a common practice—a social norm—it is
also openly resisted and this fact emphasizes the importance of
names to people.
An effective illustration of the importance of names was
shown in the magazine National Geographic where the most
common US surnames were presented in the form of a map that
displayed the distribution of people’s surnames by state. The
map was part of a research study that collected data on sur-
names to track immigration patterns and for genealogical pur-
poses (Cheshire, Longley, & Mateos, 2011). The researchers
created a website for people to find “hot spots for surnames
around the globe” (p. 21), which further emphasizes the level
of interest that names hold. While a patriarchal social system
has daughters carrying their father’s last name (until marriage)
it is obvious that the commonness of surnames in the US is
intricately linked to the tradition of marital name changing.
Cultural traditions exist in a social context that experiences
social change. For example, new state laws legalizing same-sex
marriage require marriage license forms to be redone so they
are sex neutral (Emens, 2011). This paperwork update provides
an opportunity to include information on the form about legal
options for marital name changing that would potentially raise
awareness about choices that are available for all couples. Nev-
ertheless, sometimes cultural traditions persist regardless of so-
cial and legal changes. In the present study, we draw on a frame-
work of symbolic interactionism, social constructionism and Fe-
minist theory to explore the reasons for marital name changing
with the intention of gaining insight into the structure of social
norms and cultural traditions. We utilize a mixed method ap-
proach and draw on both qualitative and quantitative data to
delve deeper into the reasons women give for marital name
*Corresponding author.
Framework and Prior Research
Sociologists emphasize the importance of the socialization
process and language in constructing social reality. People learn
the meanings of symbols in social interactions and these social
objects are used to represent whatever people agree that they
should represent. From the perspective of symbolic interaction-
ism, language allows people to actively create society (Berger
& Luckman, 1966; Blumer, 1969; Garfinkel, 1967, 1984; Goff-
man, 1959; Schutz, 1932, 1967) and this includes constructing
social norms that reflect and shape the social context. The so-
cial norm of marital name changing is linked to a patriarchal
social structure that includes gendered societal expectations
(Kimmel, 2011). It is a socially constructed expectation that
women will prioritize marriage over their personal identities, as
displayed in their last name, and practice the tradition of marital
name changing (Smith, 1987).
From a feminist perspective, participating in marital name
changing reinforces gender inequality because a woman’s pre-
viously established single person identity is considered subordi-
nate to the new married status (Emens, 2007; Smith, 1987).
Historically, the legal doctrine of coverture enforced women’s
subordinate status by restricting the rights of married women
(Hoff, 1991; Kerr, 1992; Million, 2003). In the mid ninetieth
century, the well-known abolitionist, lecturer and suffragist-
Lucy Stone challenged the status quo by keeping her surname
after marriage (Hoff, 1991; Kerr, 1992; Million, 2003). Over
one hundred years later, in 1975 it became legal for a married
woman to keep her birth name, however; current public records
show that the majority of women take their husband’s surname
at marriage (Gooding & Kreider, 2010; Kopelman, Shea-Van
Fossen, Paraskevas, Lawter, & Prottas, 2009). The fact that
most women follow the tradition of marital name changing pro-
vides evidence of the power and pervasiveness of the gender
socialization process.
A recent study collected data from college students in two
regions of the US to examine both attitudes and plans toward
marital name changing across place and time (Scheuble et al.,
2012). The results revealed that Midwest respondents in 2006
held more traditional attitudes compared to Midwest respon-
dents in 1990, and were more likely to agree that marital name
changing indicated a greater commitment to marriage. The
analysis across regions showed that women respondents who
lived in the eastern US were more likely to report plans to keep
their name at marriage compared to those living in the Midwest.
Research by Gooding and Kreider (2010) found that women
living in the Northeast or Western part of the country were
more likely to keep their own surname or combine surnames
compared to women living in the South. A content analysis us-
ing wedding announcements published in The New York Times
in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and in the years 2001-2005 found a
nonlinear pattern (i.e., not systematic across time) for the per-
cent of brides choosing to keep their birth name rather than
participate in marital name changing (Kopelman et al., 2009).
Together these findings suggest that the extent of adherence to
a cultural tradition like marital name changing is affected by the
place of residence and by social change across time.
A research study by Scheuble and Johnson (1993) conducted
personal interviews with college students at a small US Mid-
west college. The majority (81.6%) of women respondents
planned to change their name upon marriage (p. 751). However,
the results showed that women respondents who expected to
marry later, planned on liberal work roles after childbirth, were
from larger communities, had mothers with higher education
levels, and held non-traditional gender role attitudes were more
likely to be accepting of various name changing practices. Also,
women respondents were significantly more likely than were
men respondents to believe it is acceptable for a woman to keep
her maiden name at marriage. According to all respondents, it
would be acceptable for the bride to keep her name at marriage
if she likes her maiden name, if she does not like her husband’s
name, if she is older when she marries, and/or if she wants to
keep her own family name going. These findings reveal a vari-
ety of reasons considered acceptable for deviating from the so-
cial norm of name changing.
Prior research shows that women participate in marital name
changing because of tradition, family values and pressure from
society (Blakemore, Lawton & Vartanian, 2005; Scheuble &
Johnson, 1993). Several studies have reported that marital name
changing is more likely for women with lower levels of educa-
tion (Gooding & Kreider, 2010; Hoffnung, 2006; Scheuble &
Johnson, 1993), and report a strong positive correlation with
women’s educational attainment and rejecting the practice of
marital name changing (Gooding & Kreider, 2010). Scheuble
and Johnson’s (1993) study found that the practice of marital
name changing was more likely for women who marry at a
young age and for women who were not familiar with egalitar-
ian lifestyles. Research by Blakemore et al., (2005) showed that
women who expressed a strong drive to marry, who valued the
role of being a parent over a career and who held traditional va-
lues were more likely to expect to change their name. Hoff-
nung’s (2006) study found that marital name changing was
likely for women who were Catholic, had mothers with only a
high school education, and who stated they wanted to have
children early in their marriage. This study reported that re-
spondents did not consider their personal identity tied to their
birth name nor did they think that marital name changing hin-
dered progress toward gender equality in society.
Taken together, this review of the literature shows mixed
findings suggesting that marital name changing is a multifacet-
ed issue. Disentangling the ideas about this social norm is im-
portant for understanding its creation and perpetuation. The
intention of the present study is to contribute to the literature
with a mixed methods analysis that allows us to delve deeper
into the reasons women give for participating in the traditional
practice of marital name changing.
For this study, two types of data are employed to investigate
reasons for marital name changing: a quantitative secondary
data set and a qualitative data set collected via in-depth inter-
views. A mixed method approach allows for comparison of re-
sults across two separate sets of data for purposes of strength-
ening and complementing the findings (Johnson & Onwuegbu-
zie, 2004; Plano Clark, Garrett, & Leslie-Pelecky, 2010). First,
we carried out a pilot study using open-ended questions about
reasons for marital name changing administered to students en-
rolled in Sociology classes at a medium-sized southeastern US
public university. From these responses, a content analysis was
conducted to ascertain patterns. Secondly, we compiled a list of
reasons documented in prior literature on name changing. By
Open Access.
comparing the pilot study results to those found in previous stu-
dies, twelve different reasons for marital name changing were
determined and these reasons were used for developing the
quantitative questionnai re and the qualitative interview script.
Quantitative Sam pl e
During the fall semester of 2007, questionnaires were admi-
nistered to first year and sophomore year college students en-
rolled in fifteen sections of lower division Sociology classes at
a medium-sized southeastern US public university. Almost all
of the 673 students participated (response rate of 98.5%). For
this study, only questionnaires with complete data were includ-
ed and this produced a sample of 355 women and 168 men. Gi-
ven that our focus is on women’s reasons for changing their
name upon marriage the sample was restricted to women re-
spondents. Information about the respondent’s race/ethnicity,
high school graduation year, type of high school attended, and
the city/state of their high school were collected as a means of
determining demographic characteristics. Due to the limitations
of the data, we had to restrict our sample. Thus, the final quan-
titative sample includes 129 white women, ages 18 - 19 years
old, who graduated from public high schools and were first year
college students.
Qualitative Sample
We employed a qualitative method approach and conducted
in-depth interviews in 2011 with a sample of women who were
engaged to be married or recently married. Using a snowball
sampling technique, twenty-one individuals were contacted,
five did not respond, and the others agreed to participate in the
study. This effort resulted in a sample of sixteen women who
had on average lived in the southeastern part of the US for ten
years and were ages 22 - 31 years old. Over half (56%) of the
women were married and the rest (44%) were engaged to be
married. All of the respondents had attended college with most
(75%) completing a Bachelor’s degree and three (19%) had
earned a Master’s degree.
Naming expectations are measured by asking questionnaire
respondents the question, “If you get married, how likely are
you to keep your name, drop your name or hyphenate your
names?” To measure reasons for marital name changing, re-
spondents were asked “When a woman gets married, do you
think that dropping her maiden name and taking her husbands
last name is…” with “yes/no” choices to a list of twelve state-
ments that were possible reasons. Each of the reasons were
dichotomized for the analyses as 1 = yes and 0 = no variables.
Open-ended questions were asked in the face-to-face interviews
to measure respondents’ perceptions of and compliance with 1)
social norms, 2) gender norms, 3) marriage traditions, and 4)
socialization practices.
Quantitative Ques tionnaire
Results from the questionnaire revealed that the majority
(90%) of women respondents stated that they are likely to drop
their birth name upon marriage. However, the options about
name changing were not mutually exclusive, and we found
some ambiguity regarding women’s expectations about whether
they will drop, hyphenate, or keep their own last name at mar-
riage. Results show that fifteen percent of respondents state
they are likely to hyphenate their last names and thirteen per-
cent are likely to keep their maiden name. This indicates that
some respondents selected multiple contrasting options and this
could be due to respondent error or indecisiveness.
Table 1 shows the frequency distributions for the twelve rea-
sons for marital name changing, the extent of consensus, and
the significant differences. The results are presented in rank
order from the highest percent of respondents agreeing to a
reason to the lowest percent agreeing. The most agreed upon
statement about marital name changing is that it is a marriage
practice that families expect (91%). The lowest percentage (3%)
of respondents expressed agreement for the following two rea-
sons: giving up the womans identity and giving the husband
power over the wife. The results in the shaded rows show high
levels of consensus (i.e., at least 80%) for the following reasons
for marital name changing: giving the husband power over the
wife (no = 97%), giving up the womans identity (no = 97%), a
marriage practice that families expect (yes = 91%), a tradi-
tional act that should be honored (yes = 83%), a good way to
build family unity (yes = 82%), and easier than having two
names (yes = 81%).
For the reasons that lacked consensus we carried out a paired
comparison analysis of percent differences and the estimated
T-score showed significant differences for two reasons. Signi-
ficantly more respondents agreed than disagreed that marital
name changing is important if the couple is going to have chil-
dren (yes = 67%) and significantly fewer agreed than disagreed
that name changing is a disadvantage if she has already built a
career (yes = 33%). Mixed results were found for the following
Table 1.
Percent of respondents agreeing with reason for marital name changing
(N = 129).
Question: When a w oman gets married, do you think that dropping
her name and taking her husband’s last name is:
Reasons: % Agree
a marriage practice that families expect 91
a traditional act that should be honored 83
a good way to build family unity 82
easier than having different last names 81
important if the couple is going to have children 67
showing respect toward the husband 57
a personal choice based on how the name soun ds 53
not an important issue 54
a bad idea if she wants to keep her family name going 52
a disadvantage if she ha s already bui lt a career 33
giving up the w oman’s identity 3
giving the husband power over the wife 3
Notes: Gray shading indicates consensus of responses at >80% and italicized re-
sponses in dicate lack of co nsensus; bo lded italicized indicates signi ficant T-score
percent difference (9 9% confidence level).
Open Access 303
four reasons for marital name changing: showing respect to-
ward the husband, a personal choice based on how the name
sounds, not an important issue, and a bad idea if she wants to
keep her family name going.
The analyses of the quantitative data show that respondents
have various reasons for why they would change their name at
marriage. Some of the reasons thematically support one another
and some are inconsistent with each other. This suggests that
allowing women to respond in their own words may enhance
our understanding of the reasons for marital name changing and
the results of the qualitative analysis are presented next.
Qualitative Data Themes
Analyses of the qualitative data included open coding and
thematic development (Plano Clark et al., 2010). The results
revealed two main themes of Social Expectations and Identity.
The first main theme, Social Expectation is comprised of the
subthemes: family expectations, family unity, tradition, com-
pliance, and heteronormativity. The second main theme, iden-
tity has the subthemes: personal identity, family heritage, ca-
reer and religion. In the following presentation of results all of
the respondents are given pseudonyms to ensure anonymity.
Within the first main theme Social Expectations, the impor-
tance of family members in the socialization process was evi-
dent. The women interviewed frequently mentioned family
expectations as a reason for their marital naming decision. This
idea is illustrated by Parker, a 22-year-old engaged woman who
I guess both of us come from families that have done that,
and I guess in ouryou know families, no one has ever not
taken the last name so it not something that was ever thought
about. I guess we would have to have good reasoning behind
[keeping the name] and we wouldnt so therefore they might be
a little bit hesitant about it so...”
Respondents expressed the idea that they were supposed to
take their spouse’s name to please their families and maintain
family harmony. This is demonstrated with the following state-
ment by Cameron, a 24-year-ol d engaged woman:
My family is very conservative, so I think that they would
expect itThe first time that they introduced us to their friends
after we got engaged was this is the future Mr. and Mrs. His
Name and went way traditional with it and completely dropped
my first name too which was weird. [Laughs] So they wouldnt
have expected anything different so we never even had the con-
versation. So I think that it would be a huge discussion if I were
to try and not change my name with my family”.
These results show how family members influence and so-
cialize each other. Respondents expressed that parents clearly
endorsed the traditional practice of marital name changing and
assumed there would be negative consequences for not adher-
ing to expectations.
The subtheme of family unity emerged as a reason for marital
name changing. The following excerpts illustrate the finding
that respondents’ thought that sharing a name is an important
component for the formation of a family and for enhancing fa-
mily unity. For example, Jayden, a 24-year-old engaged woman
Im more so just doing it because I think that when you start
a new family the name is an important symbol of your unity as
a familyI want to have the feeling of family unity of being the
Ballards’… so I think that it is moreI want to be a cohesive
family unit. I guess its that feeling or belief that is the real
reason or main reason why I want to change my name”.
Another example of family unity is shown in the response
from Hayden, a 24-year-old married woman who is still con-
templating name changing who stated:
I can see now how it can affect [family unity] for little
things, like Charles likes to call us the Wilsonsbut were not
the Wilsonsso that bothers him a lot. So it does affect family
harmony because its a rip and when we have kids it will be
important because I want them to have our name, not just his
name or not just my name. So I suppose thats important”.
It is notable that even the respondents that considered them-
selves non-traditional (i.e., they were career oriented, well-
educated and/or self-identified as feminists), wanted to have the
same name as their husband because they thought it was im-
portant for family unity.
The subtheme of tradition demonstrates how respondents
perceived the social norm of marital name changing and how
socialization perpetuates the practice. For example, Emerson, a
32-year-old married woman stated:
I think just having seen other family members; cousins and
so on get married prior to me and just having known the back-
ground of my parents and their siblings and so on and so forth.
I guess yeah, in a way I guess you could look at that as tradi-
tion because it was something that always happened and al-
ways occurred”.
The emotional component underlying adherence to tradition
was also demonstrated by the enthusiasm expressed by respon-
dents. For example, Jordan showed heightened emotion when
referring to tradition by the way she stressed words and used
non-verbal communication. She stated: “Ultimately I like the
tradition, I like the idea of it, I like the whole idea of Im going
to be a part of youI never struggled with it at all. It was
never like do I do it, do I not?” Here, the respondent gets ex-
cited, her voice increases, her eyes widen, and she smiles when
talking about liking the tradition of marital name changing, its
importance as a part of marriage and being a part of her hus-
band. Most of the interviewees responded in a similar way
when they spoke about following the tradition of name chang-
ing. These findings provide insight into the social construction
of reality and illustrate the emotional part of the tradition of
marital name changing t ha t is cap t u r e d i n n am es .
Compliance was a prominent subtheme that emerged in the
analysis. To illustrate, Emerson, a 32-year-old married woman
stated: “And changing my name was not something that I ever
questioned, I know other people choose to keep their last name
or choose to hyphenate, but that was just never something that I
guess was questioned or that I was concerned with.” This type
of statement was typically accompanied by the responde nt’s non-
chalant body gestures (i.e., shrugged shoulders, lifted eyebrows,
flipped up hands) and apathetic tone of voice. Respondents
expressed that they did not give the topic of name changing
much thought and it was not something that concerned them.
To support this position, the women alluded to the fact that they
have assumed they would change their name as a matter of
practicing tradition in our society. For example, Dakota, a 23-
year-old engaged woman stated, “I think it is almost instinctual,
it is something that I feel I am supposed to do.” These types of
statements indicate a level of compliance to a social norm that
surpasses the intentional thought respondents gave to the ideas
of family unity and personal identity.
The last subtheme of Social Expectations is heteronormativ-
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ity—the desire for an outward display of marriage. Respondents
wanted other people to know and recognize that they are mar-
ried and seriously committed to their husbands. These types of
statements were ones in which the women showed the most
enthusiasm when speaking about name changing. For example,
Logan, a 25-year-old married woman stated, “I want people to
know that I am married, that my name has changed, and that I
am married to my husband.” The respondent’s excitement was
shown with her voice changing to a higher pitch, her hand tap-
ping the table with each phrase and smiling as she spoke. An-
other example of heteronormativity is shown in the response
from Cameron, a 24-year-old engaged woman who stated:
I want people to know that were together and that Im his
wife. I think I want that title and I want to be Mrs. Bob Smith if
thats what you want to call it. And I am fine taking on his
name to be able to have that identity with us being together”.
The respondents perceived societal level benefits from being
a married person and changing their name contributes to being
socially acknowledged as married. For example, Emerson, a
32-year-old married woman stated, “And that [marital name
changing] was kind of like one of those goal achievement types
of things and that was just kind of how I viewed it.”
The second main theme Identity is comprised of the sub-
themes personal identity, family heritage, career and religion.
The respondents emphasized their personal identity by stating
that their birth name was important to them and it shaped how
they felt perceived by society. An example of this is shown by
Avery, a 28-year-old married woman who stated,
It is a little emotional like I said, it is sad because you are
completely changing the surface of how people know you. When
I call people they dont always recognize who you are and
thats hard and learning your new name and changing every-
thing about you was not fun and not easy. So its the frustration,
the loss of your sense of identity for the short amount of time
that I think it takes for you to overcome that.”
In describing personal identity, Hayden, a 24-year-old mar-
ried woman stated, “Ive been me my whole life and it was a
little bit hard for me to give up my name and change to a new
name. Which for what I see, is not a very big reason.” These
types of statements demonstrated the regret some respondents
expressed in losing the personal identity that is linked to their
birth name.
Respondents stated that their birth name was important to
them in terms of their family heritage. For example, Ryan, a 24-
year-old engaged woman stated, “And I am very Italian and I
am very proud of that and I love my heritage, and I dont really
want to lose that, I just d on’t want to g o from being an Italian to
all white.” Likewise, Peyton, a 24-year-old engaged woman stated:
Sure, Im really proud of my family and heritage and every-
one knows me as Peyton Jazzy and it is such a different name,
but Ive never disliked it so thinking about how I would feel
being called something else, I took that into consideration.”
These respondents’ considered how changing their name
would affect the tie to their family heritage indicating that
names carry meaning for people across time and that some
people feel strongly about the link.
The respondents stated that their careers were connected to
their identity and they had considered their professional lives in
light of marital name changing. This is best illustrated with the
statement by Jayden, a 24-year-old engaged woman:
I thought about, I will have a couple publications under my
maiden name by the time we get married, just two I think, and it
kind of stings to ‘lose’ those publications so I am toying with
idea of keeping it hyphenated Smith-Jones for publications only
like nowhere else, but then that gets confusing too, and it is
only two publications so I might just make the switch and say
screw it”.
Although Jayden will be a professional after graduation, she
has decided to take her husband’s name upon marriage. Her
statement about weighing the career-related consequences of
name changing illustrates the type of personal debate underta-
ken by many of the women interviewed.
The subtheme of religion was another reason influencing the
decision about marital name changing. For example, Casey, a
24-year-old engaged woman stated, “I think that if I didnt be-
lieve what I believe that I may not change my namethere is a
meaning and a motive for it.” This illustrates that marital name
changing serves as a symbol of following a belief system. As
Cameron, a 24-year-old engaged woman stated, “But as far as
the tradition of the name change and us being one household
and the way marriage was said to be, its the religious aspect of
me taking his name that has played a big part of it.” This find-
ing illustrates the importance of religion for the interviewees’
decision to change names. Taken together, these findings show
that there are various reasons for supporting the practice of
marital name changing. The lack of a single theme emerging
indicates the multifaceted quality of this social norm.
The present study sought a deeper understanding of the rea-
sons for the traditional practice of marital name changing. The
results contribute to the literature by utilizing a mixed methods
approach that reveals the multifaceted quality of marital name
changing. The responses from women in the interview data
show that the reasons given for name changing are not reasons
that are easily captured by categories included in a question-
naire. Using the qualitative data delivers depth to the study
while the quantitative data gives the study breadth.
Overall, there is agreement in the two samples of data with
the majority of respondents expecting to follow (or have alrea-
dy followed) the tradition of marital name changing. This is
consistent with previ ous research findings. Family expecta tions
emerged as the dominant reason supporting marital name chang-
ing for all respondents in this study. The interview data reveal-
ed that sometimes family members explicitly encouraged com-
pliance to the tradition while at other times the respondents as-
sumed their fa mily expec te d marital name changing. Either way,
it is striking the extent of influence held by family expectations
and this illustrates the power of the socialization process.
Adding to the evidence of socialization is the fact that almost
half of the respondents from both samples thought that marital
name changing was not an important issue. That is, they accept-
ed the social norm. Even so, the findings reveal that marital
name changing is conside red very important in terms of meeting
expectations set by their family and by society, and for estab-
lishing family unity with their husband. Together these results
show the complexity of the issue but moreover the findings de-
monstrate the power of the social norm of marital name ch anging .
Unlike responses from the questionnaire, the interviewees
expressed concern about losing their personal identity. They
seem to resolve this dilemma by focusing on the notion that
name changing is a tradition that should be honored and is part
of the marriage process. All of the interviewees have advanced
Open Access 305
Open Access.
levels of education but most of them did not think changing
their name would be a disadvantage for their career. This find-
ing is unexpected given the positive association between educa-
tion and name keeping reported in previous research. It is pos-
sible that other influential factors shown in prior research, for
example, differences by place of residence, might further ex-
plain this relationship.
A theme that emerged in the qualitative findings, but was not
part of the quantitative questionnaire, was heteronormativity.
The respondents expressed this theme by stating they wanted an
outward display of unity through the name change. They ex-
pressed wanting to show other people in society their married
status. This gaining of social power obtained by marital name
changing is a form of social mobility, as exemplified by the
respondent who stated, “It’s a name upgrade!” The perception
of gaining power at the societal level is supported at the per-
sonal level by the finding that very few respondents in this
study agreed with the idea that name changing gives the hus-
band power over the wife. Prior research indicates that both
men and women agreed that women do not have a lot of power
in society, despite there being no significant gender difference
in reports of feeling personally powerful (Powers & Reiser,
2005). In a patriarchal society, gaining approval from men is a
form of power (Kimmel, 2011) and accepting the practice of
marital name changing complies with gendered expectations.
The respondents in the present study frame the issue of marital
name changing as an achievement for women rather than a re-
inforcement of women’s subordinate social status.
There are several limitations to this study that must be noted.
There are known biases in both qualitative and quantitative re-
search (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). The samples used for
the analyses are not generalizable. The focus on women respon-
dents excluded men’s views about marital name changing. It is
reasonable to think that women’s reasons about name changing
are not independent of their future spouse’s and this is an area
for future research.
The findings from this study illustrate how being socialized
in a patriarchal society contributes to conformity with gendered
traditions and adherence to social norms. That is, women are
likely to follow the practice of dropping their name and taking
their husband’s name upon marriage. A key contribution of this
study is the use of mixed methods to gain a deeper understand-
ing of reasons for marital name changing. Together the findings
suggest that women’s perceptions of their family’s expectations
are a key reason motivating them to practice marital name
changing. However, as confirmed by both samples of data, wo-
men expressed mixed and sometimes inconsistent reasons re-
garding marital name changing. Future research on this topic
would add to the body of knowledge by exploring the reasons
given by married women who kept their birth name, or who
chose to hyphenate last names, or who created with their spouse
a new name. The examples of those who do not comply with
the social norm would likely provide more insight into how cul-
tural traditions are shaped, maintained and changed.
We extend our gratitude to the undergraduate and graduate
students who contributed to this project. We thank the anony-
mous reviewers for their helpful comments.
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