Smith, Smith-Wong, Wong-Smith, or Wong? The Case of the “Miss-ing” Surname9 min read

28 November, 2009 0 comment

Despite the available options for surname changes upon marriage, a recent study that surveyed 815 people showed 71 percent of respondents agreed that a woman should take their husband’s surname. This study, “Mapping Gender Ideology with Views toward Marital Name Change”, was presented this past August 2009, at the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) annual meeting.

“There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we’re moving toward a more equal family, yet there’s no indication that we’re seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names.”

“The figures were a bit sobering for us because there seems to be change in so many areas. If names are a core aspect of our identity, this is important,” said Brian Powell, Professor of Sociology at the Indiana University (IU) Bloomington. “There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we’re moving toward a more equal family, yet there’s no indication that we’re seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names,” said Laura Hamilton, co-author of the study and doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington. Despite the many years women fought for gender equality, this study showed little change in the ways in which women would like to be referred to in relation to men upon marriage.

Ultimately, a surname is a form of identity. Aside from it being a symbol of how a woman is related to a man, both Joanna and Robert agreed that it is something that is primarily used for legal documentation. When asked what Carmen, Maria, and Joanna thought about the study presented at the ASA annual meeting, their responses were unanimous. “It’s the woman’s choice.”

With a multitude of details to worry about before the big day, a bride’s future surname is a detail on the wedding checklist that may not be quite as daunting as some may think. Inevitably, some brides-to-be will be subject to some family and cultural pressures to change their names in order to follow tradition. At first, members of the older generation raised some questions and showed some frowns; but these three couples said that their marriage was a fairytale ending with no family pressures to follow tradition.

Although Robert said he’d like his future wife to change her last name, he said “It’s not the end of the world.”

For Alex, he was happy with his wife’s decision to take his name.

For Calvin, he said he married Carmen for her, and her last name doesn’t matter.

It’s her choice.

Perhaps a change of surname at the time of marriage is just a symbol of the union of two people, and a new beginning. For these three women, a surname shouldn’t predicate the identity of who they really are—married or not. Their identity is how they see themselves:

“I am independent,” said Carmen.

“I am an individual, I have strengths, patience, and courtesy,” said Maria.

“I am there for my friends, and I am patient,” said Joanna.

For them, a surname is just a surname.

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