August
11th 2011
Surname follow-up: Flavia crunches the numbers and says “wev.”

Posted under: Gender, happy endings, women's history

Run, don’t walk, over to Flavia’s place to read about the data-crunching she’s done on surnames of married women whose wedding announcements appeared this summer in the New York Times:

So this weekend, my dears, I decided to do some valuable procrastination in the service of collecting cold hard marriage data. I skimmed the 500 most recent NYT wedding announcements, from May 1st until yesterday, and recorded how many women in heterosexual partnerships kept their last names, took their husbands’, or did something in between. I also recorded their ages.

.       .       .       .      .       .      

[A]rmed with a primitive spreadsheet, I decided to investigate. I can break the numbers down in detail in the comments if anyone cares, but the short version is this: of 450 heterosexual marriage announcements, 75% clearly indicated whether the bride was changing or keeping her name. Of that number, 30% kept their birth name outright, with an additional 10% “continu[ing] to use [their] name professionally”; hyphenating their last names with their husbands’; forming a new shared surname; or indicating that they would be using their maiden name as a middle name, à la Hillary Rodham Clinton. The remaining 60% took their husbands’ names.

Moreover, from this sample, there is not a strong correlation between the age of the bride and her decision to keep or change her name. Women who got married at age 26 and younger showed almost exactly the same 40/60 split as the data set as a whole.

Isn’t that a dedicated act of social history research, friends?  Especially interesting are her thoughts about why this project made her think that the question of changing or not changing surnames just isn’t that important any longer.  Hints:  the internets, social media, and gay marriage.  Go read the whole thing!  Read the comments too–I think her project highlights the power of number-crunching while her commenters point to its limitations, which was a subset of our conversation last week about languages and the turn away from cliometrics.  (Many of you regular readers and commenters found this post before I did–see the technical note below.)

I think Flavia makes a great point when she says that at least for women, for better or worse it’s rarely all or nothing, no matter which name we choose to use or whether we try to combine or use both alternately.  I regularly get called Mrs. Fratguy, which I’ve decided not to mind, especially when people are just trying to be friendly and respectful.  Interestingly, he also gets called Mr. Historiann (NOT Dr. Historiann), which I think he finds amusing because he never corrects people who call him that.  I’ve noticed that they *do* apologize to him if they realize their error, which is something that rarely happens to me when I’m called Mrs. Fratguy.  But, hey:  we chose to get married, so we have to carry some of the luggage even if we didn’t pack it ourselves.  Married heterosexuality is mostly about privilege, after all.

Technical note:  For some reason, I’m not getting links and trackbacks to my posts, so if you are a blogger and you write a response to something I wrote, please shoot me an e-mail.  I just discovered this post by Flavia today, 3 days later, and I would have liked to have seen and replied to it much sooner, since she linked to this post of mine from a few weeks back about surname tsuris in one family.

Also, yes:  this blog was offline for most of yesterday, because of some server problems in Dallas.  Sorry for the inconvenience–but this is a non-profit shop, so sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, friends!

17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Surname follow-up: Flavia crunches the numbers and says “wev.””

  1. rustonite on 11 Aug 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Name changing is actually something I’ve been thinking about recently, because two women in my life have had legal problems with it.

    -My parents got audited by the IRS because they were filing as married but had different last names. Not sure how often that happens, but it seems bizarre.

    -A friend couldn’t renew her drivers license, because this state requires both a birth certificate and a social security card to renew a license, and the last names on them didn’t match. So now she’s had to get a lawyer, and in the mean time can’t drive, buy beer, vote, etc.

    These sorts of things wouldn’t happen if dudes changed their names on a regular basis.

  2. Ruth on 11 Aug 2011 at 8:53 am #

    My children have my birth name as a middle name and their father’s name as a last name. A daughter recently got married and took her husband’s name, moving her father’s name to the middle name position and dropping my birth name. The paperwork was quite a nuisance. What was interesting is how concerned she was that I would be upset at her dropping my family name, and how little I found I cared. I certainly have my views about the principles behind all of this, but as far as individuals are concerned, “wev” is definitely my response.

  3. Rachel on 11 Aug 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I’m still in the hot and bothered by name changes camp. And Rustonite is absolutely correct that if men changed their names regularly, the bureaucracy would be much more likely to handle mismatched names well. Speaking of which, why and how is it, that in this age of women making a variety of choices and high divorce rates, that contemporary men have been so well socialized to expect that women will take their names or, if not, that at least the children will have theirs? On practical grounds alone, men should expect and women should want to keep their names. Kids are another matter but I’d sure love to move beyond the possessive element of naming — the kid is mine, shouts the father via the lastname even if he does less than 50% of the childcare….I guess I’m feeling pretty contrary today.

  4. Best of Fair on 11 Aug 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Rustonite, your friend should be able to take her birth certificate, certified marriage record, and SS card to the state’s DMV and save the lawyer’s fees – unless there’s some other issue.

    And – what Rachel said.

  5. koshembos on 11 Aug 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Always found the asymmetry of last name changes disturbing; it doesn’t fit my concept of fairness. My son and his wife found a great solution to the problem. They combined the two last names to form a single name. Example: a guy named Cohen marries a girl called Liu will both have the last name Cohenliu or Liucohen. I like this solution.

    For the less fortunate, there is a similar issue with last name after a divorce. My wife kept her X’s name since her professional career was under that name. My last X, changed her last name, mine and hers, to a modified and simplified version. (Spouses and presidents sometime are head cases.)

    Children of parents with two or combined names may want to go one direction or another. That is also a potential spreadsheet.

  6. Indyanna on 11 Aug 2011 at 10:23 am #

    It would be interesting to see how this practice has evolved over recent time, whether the last fifteen, twenty, thirty years, in the same outlet (Times announcements), as well as how it breaks down across generational time in any give three month sample. That question could presumably be crowd/cloud-sourced if this outlet is archived and not pay-walled, if a bunch of people each took a different three month span. [There must be some scholarly literature on this phenomenon, albeit probably from different kinds of records].

  7. rustonite on 11 Aug 2011 at 10:49 am #

    @Best of Fair:
    It’s more complicated than that, because she’s divorced, and retook her maiden name, and her marriage and divorced certificates were issued in another state. Apparently just showing the certificates is not acceptable. She needs a statement from a court in this state saying that she is who she is.

  8. Comrade PhysioProf on 11 Aug 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Frequently when PhysioWife and I travel, she is the traveler of record on our hotel reservations. While we do not share a surname, I am frequently referred to as Mr. PhysioWife by hotel staff. I don’t really give a fucke, and don’t bother correcting anyone, but thatte’s male privilege.

  9. truffula on 11 Aug 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    The father of my children and I are not married, although we cohabitate and expect to do so until one or the other of us shuffles off this mortal coil. A surprising number of people in the professional circles I inhabit are taken aback when they learn of this arrangement. I attribute the attitude to socioeconomic class but have no data to back that up.

    Our children’s names are Firstname Secondname Mamafamilyname Papafamilyname, not hyphenated. The lack of hyphenation causes some confusion at school, though I know darn well that schools handle all manner of family structures and name combinations these days. Last summer, I overheard one of my children telling a neighborhood kid that we are all a family because we want to be one.

  10. Best of Fair on 11 Aug 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    @Rustonite -
    I should have figured it was much more complicated. It sounds like your state is quite strict. I would be interested to know what state if you care to share. Regardless, best of luck to her! What a miserable situation to face.

    I lobbied for the solution that Koshembos’ son and daughter-in-law came up with. I was shot down, but we both still use the mashed together term to refer to the household or to the pets’ last names.

    Husband and I get referred to as each other’s last names a lot, and it only annoys/enrages me when I am referred to as “Mrs. Husband” by someone who I know knows better. But our marriage is still young and I am confident that some day I’ll get over it. He is entertained when referred to as “Mr. of Fair.”

    I have to disagree with Flavia’s assertion that the question of whether to change your name or not is not much of an issue to most women anymore. I even have the anecdata to prove otherwise: most women I know agonized over the choice, whichever way they ultimately decided. Concerns more or less boiled down to: I might not be a good feminist if I do change my name, and I might not be a good wife if I don’t. I can only think of two men who went through the same handwringing.

  11. Bridgett on 11 Aug 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    This has been an interesting discussion. I chose to hyphenate my name when I married 18 years ago. I did so because I didn’t want to drop my family name and I felt I wouldn’t feel compelled to correct others who assumed I had taken his family name if it was at least part of my name. It is interesting how many people and businesses don’t know how to handle a hyphenated name and summarily choose to drop one of the names, usually my family name.

    If I would have known when I got married that I would eventually earn a PhD, I would have kept my name and not hyphenated the names as Dr. Myfamilyname-Hisfsmilyname is a bit long. Admittedly, there are many instances when I use only my family name for ease of use so I have contemplated legally changing my name back to just my family name and dropping the hyphenation, but that seems like a cumbersome process since there is no divorce involved. But when students who are engaged ask me how I have liked a hyphenated name, my recommendation is for them not to do and just keep their family name!

  12. Flavia on 11 Aug 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Best of Fair:

    I did not assert that the choice itself isn’t a big deal. I believe that the decision whether or not to change one’s name is (or at any rate should be) a big deal, but that given that we have a lot of imperfect options, what an individual woman chooses to do should not lead us to jump to immediate conclusions about her political commitments, feminist credentials, etc.

    For me, keeping my name is not only the best option, but an intuitively obvious one. However, that’s not true for everyone, and a woman can live out her feminism in all kinds of important and aggressive ways even if she’s taken her husband’s name.

  13. polisciprof on 11 Aug 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    My husband and I have always had different names. It became particularly useful when, after 15 years of communting, I was able to secure a job at his university (same department). Sure, all of our friends knew who my spouse was, but I avoided most of the “she got that job because of her husband…” stuff.

    It also took the students some three years to make the connection and many still don’t. True story… My husband was discussing feminism in class one day when the subject of women changing names upon marriage came up. A student asked, “Prof. XY, did your wife change her name when you got married.” The knowing part of the class erupted in laughter and said, “You don’t know Prof. XX very well, do you?”

  14. shaz on 11 Aug 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Go Quantification!
    I’ll be positive and show the 60%+ some of the many daily advantages to keeping your name. Just to start:

    1. When someone calls asking for “Mrs. MrSurname”, 99% of the time, it is a telemarketer, and I can immediately tell them: nope, no one here by that name!

    2. Easy to publish/get grants together without assumptions of who is the ‘real’ scholar.

    I’m sure there are many many more, but it’s late…

    P.S. Never had an IRS problem, but we were told by our tax guy to file under Mr’s SS# so the IRS doesn’t flag it as weird to be under my name AND married with different names. Who knows if still (ever?) true…

  15. Best of Fair on 12 Aug 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Flavia – you are correct. I misread the relevant paragraph. My apologies for mischaracterizing your conclusions. I do love that you went through this quantification exercise!

  16. A very cute link love « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured on 13 Aug 2011 at 12:34 am #

    [...] A nifty empirical exercise from ferule and fescue on taking of last names in the NYT.  Historiann comments. [...]

  17. becca on 13 Aug 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    I’m in a family situation not totally dissimilar from truffula’s… and yet, I have still gotten called Mrs. MrSurname. I gotta say- it’s even weirder to complain about *passing* for the privileged position of married heterosexuality.