Sloppy statistics: Do 50% of Americans really think married women should be legally obligated to change their names?

Discuss

166 Responses to “Sloppy statistics: Do 50% of Americans really think married women should be legally obligated to change their names?”

  1. Ethan Holman says:

    Out of curiosity, what’s the reasoning behind using Koerth-Baker here if not in other aspects of your life?

    Great post, by the way.

    • You’re going to laugh, but it’s purely a matter of domain name chance. When I started freelancing in 2006, maggiek.com was owned by somebody else. But maggiekb.com was available. And I wasn’t about to try to make people spell “Koerth” every time they wanted to search me. 

      So, now, seven years later, Maggie Koerth is the person and Maggie Koerth-Baker is the fictional corporate entity.

  2. JacquelynGill says:

    Thanks for posting that, Maggie! I do agree that misusing statistics just fosters mistrust and is ultimately damaging. Which is unfortunately, because it ends up derailing the discussion from the broader issue– that most women in this country still DO change their names, and very, very few men do. 

    And I think it matters; not in order to judge any one woman for her particular choice, but to examine the culture around that choice. I admit, I am sometimes dissatisfied with “it’s a personal choice” defense. As I mentioned above, a lot of the choices women make — to stay at home, to change their name– happen to be the same choices that patriarchy would make (and have made) for women, metaphorically speaking. Which leads me to wonder, how much of a choice is it, really? Especially when men are not systematically making those choices, and the ones that do are not supported (look at how we treat stay-at-home dads, or the legal barriers to guys changing their names). 

    • My response to that, honestly, is that one of the more neglected parts of feminism is making sure that men have the right and support to make choices like changing their name and staying at home. It’s really one of those places where they’re being hurt by patriarchy, too. So, for me, that’s where I’ve been putting my focus … on what I and society can do to support EVERYONE’S choices. I think that’s more useful at this point than the other direction which really tends to devolve into critiquing choices that other women make about their own lives.

      • JacquelynGill says:

        I do want to point out that male identity issues like the two you mention are a big part of feminism– and an active one, I’d add. Of course, feminism isn’t a monolithic entity, but there’s a misconception that feminism is pro-woman at the expense (or neglect) of men. There’s a big difference between criticizing an individual choice and pointing out that, “huh, only a certain group of people tend to be making a certain choice.” I believe that there is value in unpacking that.

        • I’m aware that they’re a part of feminism and I’m not at all trying to say that feminism is pro woman at the expense of men. But from my perspective as a feminist woman engaged in discussion about feminism in my personal life and online, I don’t see a lot of focus on unpacking what we can do to support a wider range of choices by men and women. And I do see a lot of arguing back and forth about what choices women SHOULD make if they want to express their feminism. I think that’s ultimately damaging to women, in the long run. 

          I do think there’s value in unpacking why we make the choices we make. I wish that that didn’t so often become (as in the original op-ed) a declaration of what choices feminist women should make. That bothers me a lot. Especially when bad statistics are used to back it up. 

          Again, this is just what I see from my perspective.

          • JacquelynGill says:

            Perhaps the discussions vary a lot depending on our circles. Personally, I do see a lot of folks trying to create discussions of feminism and men when it comes to things like changing rape culture, or gun violence. Perhaps they don’t get as much traction because (ironically) fewer men tend to participate in conversations about feminism? I mostly just wanted to be really clear, because a VERY common argument I hear from is that “feminists hate/ignore men!”And it’s simply not true. I often bring up the phrase, “the patriarchy hurts everyone.” 

            I definitely agree with you 100% that judging our fellow women is not okay.  It’s the culture that we need to be pushing back on– the culture that makes it more common/okay/encouraged/normalized to do one thing, versus another (and this goes for women AND men changing their names). 

          • Alice V says:

            I think that many women make the decision to change their names without thinking. So no matter what aspect of the issue you espouse, keep the discussiong going. I’m from a demographic that was accepting, sadly not questioning the status quo. If only one woman wakes up and thinks, it’s a good thing–no matter if tadition wins.

      • Steve Taylor says:

        It was a little interesting when we gave my daughter my wife’s last name, without any qualifying hyphens. I got a bit more pushback from my family than I would have predicted, though things settled down ok.

        I’m quite happy with the decision except for a nagging fear that some people assume that I’m the boyfriend who came along later, after the child was born.

        • l337n00b says:

          The boyfriend-who-came-along-later thing is exactly why my wife wanted our daughter to have my name rather than hers.  I think I would have preferred giving her my wife’s name, but it wasn’t a terribly strong preference, so it ended up being my name.

      • Jim Davison says:

        Something to consider along these lines: As a proud father of two, I was deeply offended by marketing campaigns from some of the main baby formula makers that strongly implied that only mothers were going to care for their children… no fathers in sight. Take, for example, Similac’s “Strong Moms” campaign. There is no corresponding campaign for dads, or even any sort of clear acknowledgement that Dads can play an equal role in the early nurturing & care-giving of a newborn.

        • CastanhasDoPara says:

          While the double standard you present is lamentable; it’s only concocted from the model that will make the most money and is targeted at the most potential spenders. In this case the overwhelming majority of spenders are mothers. Mirroring the campaign for fathers would likely produce such a small return on investment that it would be simply foolish to pursue in a fiscal sense. 

          On the other hand I’m sure there are women out there who deeply wish that their interest in science or math or god forbid both were better represented in the propaganda materials of those cultural arenas. Or within society at large for that matter. 

          Maybe you shouldn’t be that deeply offended about it. After all it is just propaganda. Right?

        • Alice V says:

          Any skill or innate competence that is defined by sex just plain has to be flawed

        • l337n00b says:

          There is also the question of whether the campaign would be meaningful.  The point of the campaign is to present to women that it doesn’t make them a bad mother to use formula as opposed to breastfeeding.  As breastfeeding is rarely an option for men, they are sort of stuck with the formula option anyway, no need to waste advertising dollars convincing us.

    •  I think that once same-sex marriage is legal and accepted, that the barriers to these kinds of choices will have to come down. Without the gender binary to dictate who does what with whose name, we’ll have to make it easier for couples to decide for themselves what they want to do. And when the marriage licenses and other legal documents don’t specify bride and groom or husband and wife but spouse and spouse, then it won’t matter. Every couple will benefit from the breakdown of this barrier.

    • Alice V says:

      Men make choices, too. This is not as obvious as a name change.
       Let’s talk about the elephant in the room (please forgive the cliche but it’s the best ever) that is the reason behind female name changing. Women were once (and in places still are) considered chattel. They were “branded” with their owner/husband’s name. “What’s love got to do with it?”–I mean, really? Subsume yourself to prove–what? Starry-eyed females are a disgrace to the sex. Wake up and smell the future!

  3. schlocktober says:

    You can’t have everything. Do you want to have the same last name as your children? Do you want your grandchildren to have four last names? Sometimes the traditional choice is the practical choice, and all options have drawbacks.

    I don’t personally care what people call themselves. If everybody hyphenated, names would never stop increasing in length.

    • The point, though, is that there are practical options beyond the traditional choice. I think there needs to be more cultural support for men to change their names to their wife’s, if they want. And there should be more cultural support for the idea that that isn’t ridiculous. I know several couples who’ve gone that direction. It solves all the same problems. 

      As for having the same last name as your children? Well, some people don’t care. I don’t think I do. 

      • My wife and I wanted to both take both names. We just didn’t because we never got around to it.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        I spent my childhood trying to convince my mother to go back to her maiden name, but she had been using it professionally and didn’t want to lose recognition. The problem with taking someone else’s name is that you’re saddled with it even if things go horribly rancid.

        •  Yes, this. My mother has talked about going back to her maiden name for years, but feels it’s too hard to do before she retires. After that, I think she’ll decide it’s too much work to do it (but that’s just my fear).

        • Jill Smith says:

          Taking another name can also be a release from a rancid history in your own family.

        • db says:

           When my grandfather died, my grandmother asked some bureaucratic person if she could go back to her maiden name (it wasn’t the happiest of marriages). The blessed bureaucrat said “Oh, that’s *your name*! of course you can use it!”

          She never legally changed it, but I am quite certain that she thought of herself in her own name thereafter.

          As for me, not marrying til you’re >40 means an increased reluctance to change your name. So I didn’t. His family doesn’t really get it, but too bad.

      • Alice V says:

        And that is truly the point. What’s so great about matchy-matchy? We live in times that embrace many types of family with the blended one being very common and normal. Society has not collapsed.

      • l337n00b says:

        I actually know a couple who both took a different name when they got married.

      • Girard says:

        Obviously the most efficient solution is for all involved parties and resulting children to adopt a nice portmanteau name. It has the egalitarian and same-name-as-kid pluses of hyphenation, with the brevity of keeping/changing one’s name. You could be Ms. and Mr. Koeker or Ms. and Mr. Baerth…

    • C W says:

      “Do you want to have the same last name as your children?”

      You say this as if some don’t.

      “Do you want your grandchildren to have four last names?”

      You say this like cultures don’t.

      • arikol says:

        Well, I don’t have the same last name as my children but now live in a country where family names are common.

        My wife and I both have our original last names, and our children have last names based on my first name with -son and -dóttir (daughter) added to a changed form of my name. That is the traditional form in my country which ensures that each individual keeps all their individuality even if they get married. Childrens’ last names can be based on the mother’s first name or the father’s first name, although using the father’s name is more common.
        The result is that the sign on our door has four different last names. No problems because of that yet.

      • Dlo Burns says:

        With any naming convention nightmare scenario brought up you can point to some point in history where people not only did it, but did it for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and thrived.

    • cegev says:

      Ultimately, I don’t think those issues are terribly important. My parents were married, and both essentially kept their last names. I ended up with my mother’s last name, while my sister ended up with my father’s, largely by our own choice. Apart from the occasional questions, and odd looks in immigration when we’ve travelled together, this has had essentially no impact on any of us.

    • My wife hasn’t changed her last name (and probably won’t in the future). We had originally planned to take both names each (which is a Spanish naming custom BTW) but due to so much going on we just left our names as they were. Our son has my surname on his birth certificate but I’m sure if in the future he felt like it he could take either one. Though when exceptionally upset at him he gets hit with the “Full Four.”

    • blueelm says:

      After the divorce these questions seem silly in retrospect.

      I’ve also known couples who invent a family name and both change. I also know some one who was married and divorced several times while being VERY religious. Each kid has a different last name.

      Me, I was DYING to change my ugly name and then never got around to it because it was annoying. Then I ended up getting divorced anyway. I’m still stuck with my ugly name, but since everyone knows it I figure until I come up with something brilliant I’ll just keep the thing.

      A part of me still wants to come up with a whole new name, but then I think what a pain that would be at work (and what if my new badge ID has a lousy picture on it). Oh lord and my passport. All those papers. Why can’t I just use my SS number and be done with it?

      • Dlo Burns says:

        Because your SS number is both your username and password in one. It’s like learning a wizard’s true name.

      • Kristy says:

         I will admit that I changed my last name to my husbands for aesthetic reasons. My maiden name, while common, was often pronounced incorrectly (sounds like a part of the male anatomy). If I had my mother’s maiden name I probably wouldn’t have bothered changing it. But in a concession to my family I did have my name hyphenated on my degree when I graduated from college.

    • Manue says:

      Where I’m from, it’s simply not a possibility to take your spouse’s name, so… everybody goes by their “birth” name.  Parents decide which of their last name(s) they want to give their babies (one or two).  Parents with hyphenated names have to choose any combination of one or two last names.  Not the end of the world.  “Do you want to have the same last name as your children?” Do you mean, my last name, or my spouse’s?

  4. oasisob1 says:

    The law should have no say at all in this. There’s no rationale for it.

  5. C W says:

    Why do Opinion pages still exist, anyway?

  6. galois says:

    Excellent article. I can empathize with your anger. My fellow liberal friends will often start conversations about some recent event we’re all supposed to be outraged at. I get stuck arguing against them because they’ve oversimplified complex issues and parroted statistics that they think tell the whole story, and then I am vilified for “supporting the other side” or, at least, spoiling the fun of collective self-righteous outrage. It’s frustrating.

    • Brainspore says:

      Another one I hear a lot (especially from people skeptical about the institution of marriage) is “half of people who get married end up getting divorced anyway.” Then I often end up in the uncomfortable situation of trying to explain how wrong that statistic is without coming across as someone who thinks all people should get married.

      • Aloisius says:

        Could you expand on that? I have often heard that statistic (specifically 30% of first marriages end in less than 10 years, 40% in 15 years and 50% over a lifetime). What is wrong with it?

        • Brainspore says:

          It’s a kind of complicated answer, in part because the marriage rate has been dropping faster than the divorce rate so just looking at the number of each on a year-by-year basis is misleading. Nowadays people who aren’t cut out for marriage are less likely to try it in the first place.

          The most impartial stats I’ve seen on the lifetime probability of any individual marriage ending in divorce put it between 40-50%, but you also have to account for the fact that divorcees can rack up multiple failed marriages while you can only stay married to the same person your whole life once. So even if half of all marriages end in divorce, that doesn’t mean that half of all married people experience a divorce.

          If you had a sample group that included Liz Taylor and seven other people who remained happily married their entire lives, then you’d still have an average 50% divorce rate among members of that group.

          • Aloisius says:

            The CDC puts divorce rates for first marriages at 48% by 20 years*[1] which sounds to me like half of all people who get married get divorced.

            * Only for women between the ages of 15-44 since older people would skew the percent down by dying though only counting women seems odd.
            [1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/abc_list_d.htm

          • Brainspore says:

            * Only for people between the ages of 15-44 since older people would skew the percent down by dying

            Seems rather unfair to exclude the people who “skew the percentage” by actually staying married for the rest of their lives.

            EDIT to add: also on closer inspection the stat you cited doesn’t actually represent the divorce rate for first marriages, but the “disruption” rate (i.e. how many of those marriages experienced a separation at some point).

          • sabelotodo says:

             Averages are funny things. The average human has one testicle and one ovary (well, slightly less, but close).

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          What is wrong with it?

          Two words:  Zsa Zsa.

    • C W says:

      That sounds like a neverending loop of smugness, back and forth.

    • Alice V says:

      But you perform the most important of functions–and the least rewarding. Soldier on knowing there are legions of us.

  7. Bradley Robinson says:

    I offered to change my last name to that of my wife if she wanted us to have the same surname — I didn’t care either way.

    She didn’t care either.

    Why anyone does is beyond me.

    That said, people think what they think.  Getting pissy about it accomplishes nothing.  

    • My husband and I had originally intended to both hyphenate our names. Then it turned out that changing his was going to be a giant hassle (and expensive). And it was enough to make us both just keep our own and not care. 

      I’d love to see biased laws like that change. If it’s easy for women to change their name upon marriage it should be easy for men, as well. 

      • That was an issue we found as well. Changing MY name was going to be a pain in the ass. Hers was just filling out a few forms and updating things. Talk about biased.

      • Wonderfully enough, in California both parties are allowed to change their middle and/or last names on their marriage license. Thus if my husband chose, he could have changed his name to mine or to a completely new name, as could I. As it was, I did decide to change my name to his. Personal choice, and as I figured it having my father’s last name wasn’t exactly the picture of feminism either. Now I have an exceedingly complicated and difficult to pronounce last name that I like to joke is a security feature.

        • billstewart says:

          Until a decade or two ago, California followed common-law traditions that you could use any name you wanted as long as it wasn’t for fraud, so this simply wasn’t a problem.  (Apparently the Department of Motor Vehicles and maybe the Patriot Act have somewhat changed this, so Californians often need to get court orders for non-marriage-related name changes, but I’m glad to hear that the DMV is being a little more cooperative again.)  

          And this is California, so “traditional” naming styles aren’t just for gringos.  Chinese and Vietnamese women usually don’t adopt their husbands’ family names, and the immigration people can get really confused by a couple whose names are Le and Ly.  Spanish-speaking Mexicans usually do something along the Spanish style of family naming (I don’t know what the Native American language Mexican naming cultures are.)

          My father-in-law anglicized his name.  My mother-in-law was in show business, and changed her name to something cooler than her birth name.  My wife wasn’t particularly attached to her then-current last name when we got married, and took mine.  Neither of my sisters took their husbands’ names when they got married. 

          • C W says:

            “Until a decade or two ago, California followed common-law traditions that you could use any name you wanted as long as it wasn’t for fraud, so this simply wasn’t a problem.”

            This was a huge problem for my bud who was going through reassignment. She got a lecture AND had to justify herself to the judge because he did not believe her gender confirmation was sincere. It was pretty horrifying that these people are allowed to exert such power over others.

          • J.R. LeMar says:

             Yes, I changed my name via the DMV in California 20 years ago. Mine was strictly for personal reasons, as I had disowned my father and no longer wanted his last name, so I just made up “LeMar” because it sounded good to me. @ the time I had just turned 18, didn’t even have a drivers license, just regular California ID under my birth name, and I just went to the DMV to get a new one, told the new name I wanted, and that was that. And then I used that name to open a bank account, apply for credit cards, etc. It was very simple then.

      • madopal says:

         I had always wondered about this.  In Illinois at least, it seemed like women got a free name change when they got married.  Unfortunately, they enter a special circle of hell on divorce where name changes are concerned.

        So, is it so much easier for a woman just because all of the entities involved (banks, DMVs, etc) just say “oh, you’re married?  Congratulations!  Give me a form and you’re good to go,” whereas for a guy, it’s a court issue.

        It always seemed like yet another bit of legal asymmetry around marriage, like the fact that you can circumvent your home state’s laws to get married, but not divorced.  Never understood that.

      • flopsy says:

        I agree with you that everyone should have the same choices in changing their names. The reason it’s easier for women to change their names is because of a history of men owning women as a sort of property. That’s where the whole name changing convention comes from. A woman’s father gives her to her husband. Her last name is supposed to reflect that. So I think once we get rid of the remnants of that mindset, it’ll hopefully get easier for men to change their names.  

        • corpunk says:

           Exactly – I wholeheartedly support ridding ourselves from practices which were initially based on abusive infringements of civil rights.  The new norm (not enforced, just social preference) should be for both partners to choose a new common last name since both will be giving up some of their individuality to their new relationship (if done right).  Men don’t ‘acquire’ wives any longer and as such the value of a paternal family name is meaningless.

      • Alice V says:

        I beileve that if men wish a name change, marriage is the way to do it but not cheaply. ;). A recent court challenge went in favor of equality in name change on marriage.

      • yosemite says:

        How was your husband changing his name expensive? My wife and I were married in Minnesota, and both merged our respective last names into a hyphenated version. It was no more expensive (or difficult) for me than it was for her.

    • C W says:

      That’s the problem, people often don’t mind their business when it comes to hyphenates or women not taking the husband’s name. Y’know, because the woman can’t be trusted to take care of her interests, “for the children”, or to “protect” the husband from… the gynocracy or something.

    • TombKing says:

      I offered to change my last name to that of my wife if she wanted us to have the same surname
      That didn’t occur to me at the time when the to be Mrs.Tombking asked about last names I said I was happy if she kept her name or if it was changed to mine, just no hyphenated names as that annoys me for some reason. No offense meant to Maggie. Anyway she kept hers and since her name is on the Safeway card (the only that has a name on it) I get called Mr. Herlastname when I pay in cash. On the whole it hasn’t caused any real issues so far.

      • Bradley Robinson says:

        My wife has a much more lofty professional title (and a much more lofty paycheck, I might add) than I do and participates in a lot of business functions afterhours.  When I am present with her, I am often referred to as Mr.Herlastname by some of her colleagues that aren’t privy to our personal lives.

        Correcting them would be pointless.

  8. corpunk says:

    We can’t get our panties in a knot every time someone tries to use questionable statistics to support an opinion that is obviously on the fringe.  The internet has given voice to so may crazies that it has made it very difficult to find an open forum within which honest and open debates can take place.  Take the name, don’t take the name, hyphen it, whatever, who cares – it’s a free country despite the best efforts from the crazies.  Now if they somehow were getting close to mandating one of the choices by law then I would take notice.  Until then, it’s all bluster.

    • Brainspore says:

      We can’t get our panties in a knot every time someone tries to use questionable statistics to support an opinion that is obviously on the fringe.

      Which opinion is “obviously on the fringe” in this case? Seems to me the stance (women shouldn’t feel compelled to change their names) is perfectly reasonable, just not the statistics about how many Americans oppose that idea.

      • corpunk says:

        In my opinion the stipulation that everyone should change  their name in a particular way as part of a marriage arrangement is absurd and so far and away from my idea of generally accepted personal freedom it classifies it as “on the fringe” of opinions.  Now, do I think taking on a common name (for both partners, mind you) is a good idea?  Well, yes, I think it helps establish a new identity reflective of the new union that hopefully will be greater than the sum of it parts.  But that’s just my opinion, for me.  What you do with your names is none of my business, nor should it be.

    • bardfinn says:

      “We can’t get our panties in a knot…”

      I stopped reading your comment right there. Obvious misogynist troll is obvious.

    • Colin Curry says:

      By saying “get our panties in a knot” are you implying that only women would get upset about the issue of name change during marriage, or that anyone who gets upset about the issue is obviously a panty-wearer ;-) I only mention as it seems a kind of throw away sexist comment.

      While Filipovic’s reading of that paper was obviously selective, decisions about altering your name after marriage can have consequences. When renting a car once, Enterprise refused to add me as a second driver because my surname is different than my spouse’s (for some reason, it was free if you were married). That is a relatively minor thing, but it underscores societal expectations of what being married means. We’ve encountered similar issues so often that we now carry a copy of our marriage certificate whenever we travel.

  9. Thank you so much for addressing this.  This sample article is one of the reasons I had to give up on reading Jez.  I know they aren’t the originator of the article but they did re-post it with no commentary on the shewing of statistics and the comments by other readers just fear mongering, unfortunately and shamefully, enrages me.

  10. phlavor says:

    There shouldn’t be a law, that’s a personal choice. I had no intent for my wife to take my last name. Particularly since her career is built around her name. She did it as a gesture of commitment. But watching the strife she endured chasing down every last institution and adhering to their individual criteria made me wish she hadn’t. 

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      She did it as a gesture of commitment.

      That just makes me ill. That a woman feels that she needs to eradicate her own identity in order to prove her commitment is positively feudal. Basically, she peeled her father’s brand sticker off and applied yours.

      • bcsizemo says:

        Isn’t that what getting married is about?

        It’s one thing to completely lose your identity to the other person, but my wife and I don’t exist as separate people, we have grown together over the years.  Yes we are separate people with our own identities, but at the same time we also respect each other and communicate/act in a unified way.

        And for the issue at hand, originally my wife hyphenated her name but after about 5 years she just dropped the hypen and took my name.  I never said anything about any of it, nor did I really care one way or the other.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          Isn’t that what getting married is about?

          If it’s before 1950 and you’re utterly unfamiliar with human psychology.  Otherwise, ick, no.

          And why is it always the woman who needs to erase her identity?  Let’s see the groom, wearing a veil, walked down the aisle by his mother as if he were a sack of yams and two goats.

        • C W says:

          “Isn’t that what getting married is about?”

          Why didn’t you change your name, then? Or why didn’t you both change your names to something entirely new to represent your union?

          • bcsizemo says:

            Why didn’t you change your name, then?

            Because I didn’t want to?

            Or why didn’t you both change your names to something entirely new to represent your union?

            Well honestly never thought of that.  Like I said before I told her it didn’t matter to me if she changed hers or not.

            The issue here isn’t the fact my wife decided to take my last name.  It is the fact that taking the husbands last name is a social norm that obvious some people find offensive/absurd.  Frankly like many things in life it really isn’t anyone’s concern except the couple getting married.

            Perhaps we can advance to a point of a gender neutral/less society where all new member are “birthed” through cloning.  And while we are at it, we can just eliminate emotions and everyone can live a nice life where everything and everyone is equal.

          • yosemite says:

            Didn’t want to? Then why would she change hers? Wouldn’t this come up in normal rational conversation?

        • yosemite says:

          Why didn’t you hyphenate your name, or take her name, instead of having her do it?

      • corpunk says:

         Easy there – we’re in fairly new territory, with civil rights taking root the social recognitions of these changes take time to work out.  Even two very liberally-minded individuals like my wife and I did the ‘traditional’ name change because at the time, in our circle, there weren’t any other examples other than hyphenation (and we both felt that was annoying).  Now with same-sex couples becoming recognized in more and more states and the ‘women as property’ mantra losing grip we have the opportunity to make new norms that promote healthy marriages.  I like the idea of both parties taking on a new last name altogether.  If they can’t decide on that maybe they shouldn’t marry.

        • techdeviant says:

          If they can’t decide on that maybe they shouldn’t marry.
          I don’t know about that…We have struggled with coming up with a new last name that would reflect a new union but wasn’t lame. I mean, I’m going to have sign this new name on all my documents and spell it on the phone and such. I don’t think this means we aren’t meant to or ready to get married just because we can’t come up with something good. I think we just aren’t creative enough.

      • Linley Lee says:

         I changed my last name when I got married.  My last name is not my identity.

      • l337n00b says:

        I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it makes me ill, but honestly whenever I hear a woman took her husbands name I have to do a double take.  It’s completely baffling to me.  The research linking in this article (the stuff that says that your opinion on taking names seems to have everything to do with culture and next to nothing to do with your actual opinion about women) actually really helps me make sense of it.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          the stuff that says that your opinion on taking names seems to have everything to do with culture and next to nothing to do with your actual opinion about women

          Are you actually suggesting that opinions about the value and role of women aren’t ingrained in culture?

  11. Russell Letson says:

    Well, the law–or at least our bureaucratic/organizational infrastructure–does have a “say” in establishing a stable identifier for various perfectly sensible and ncessary purposes. My wife took back her own family name when we moved to Minnesota (new job, state, and legal environment since we got married) and she also (like Maggie) maintains a variation on her name for her byline–in her case, a variant spelling of her given name. And we have to pay attention to that spelling when dealing with some official matters (travel documents, passport, tax returns, bank account) lest confusion reign. (Something you don’t want at, say, passport control.)

    Right after we married, we were dealing with a banker, and my wife asked whether she could retain her own name on the documents in question. He looked at her as though she had just alighted from a flying saucer and said, “Why would you want to do that?” Forty-some years have made a big difference.

  12. PaulDavisTheFirst says:

    i hyphenated my last name after my first marriage. the immigration folks (INS back then) were unhappy when, post divorce, i told them i was changing it back to my original single name. they wanted a court order. it took some level of legal threat to point out that they would not do this if i was female. they eventually conceded.

    my daughter’s last name is barton, since her mother and i had agreed that if we had a girl she would take her name, if a boy then mine.  personally speaking, although i loved the tone “barton-davis”, it was hard to shake that name off after the divorce. i would tend to recommend against hyphenation these days until a time traveller has assured you that your marriage will last forever.

    • billstewart says:

      The passport name business has gotten a lot messier since they farmed most of the paperwork out to the Post Office (so the level of strictness depends on your local postmaster), and since the paranoia about Terrorism and Immigrants Who Might Want To Work has increased the amount of reliance on documentation trails that various bureaucrats have.  My wife’s first name hasn’t been spelled the same way as her birth certificate since she was 12, and none of her paperwork spells it that way except her latest passport and the airline tickets she’s gotten when travelling internationally with that passport.

  13. Aloisius says:

    Personally I believe that if you get married and the last name issue is important to you, you should sit down with your partner and create a new last name together. None of this hyphenation or worrying about who takes what name and in what order. Just pick something new.

    (I’m probably never getting married, but just in case, I call dibs on “Maker” or possibly “A” so if I ever had kids they’d be first for everything ordered by last name)

    • My wife and I just may do that. We both prefer the surnames of some of our ancestors. Hers was Wolfe, mine was Fox.

      • billstewart says:

        Recent Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada’s grandfather was an American named Fuchs (whose parents were from France.)  The name Quesada is Spanish/Jewish, but his mother was Basque. 

    • GlyphGryph says:

      It’s a shame it can’t be done as part of your marriage, though. At least in New England, it needs to be done separately, after the fact (with associated additional fees, though they aren’t THAT bad).

  14. Wild Rumpus says:

    …if I want to change my name to Petunia Knickerbocker, whose business is it anyway?

  15. DaughterNumberThree says:

    This is why I am a Maggie Koerth-Baker (or Maggie Koerth!) fan girl.

  16. At 19 I was kind of upset that my sister-in-law  took my brother’s last name. She pointed out that her last name was the name she took when her stepfather adopted her when she was 12. She explained that while she loved her stepfather very much and was proud to take his name for a period, she expected her marriage to my brother would probably be a more important  relationship and so she would change her name again.

    BTW, formal adoption of a stepchild is a difficult process when the biological parent is still alive. You gotta send registered letters to last known addresses, publish legal notices in papers where you think the parent may live, and give a year and a day for the biological parent to protest, so my SIL’s stepfather went through the shit. Happily her long absentee father never lifted a finger and the whole process took only about two years.

  17. Paul Renault says:

    You’all may not be aware of this, but some years ago, the Province of Quebec changed the marriage laws so that women keep their name when they marry.

    You have to pay extra, a lot extra, to change your name.

  18. lavardera says:

    When my wife and I married in 1992 she kept her name, no hyphens. Some people didn’t get it, but not too many. Anybody that had a problem with that, well they could GFT.

    When we were expecting we agreed that if we had a girl, we would use her name, if a boy my name. Could have been reversed, but thats what we decided, and we had a girl. I couldn’t be happier about it too. Now perhaps over the years there may have been some who did not understand, or assumed I was not the father, or she was from a prior marriage. I don’t really care, it only makes them wrong.

    And one of the most common outcomes of this is being addressed by one of my daughters friends as “Mr. MyWife’sName”, which does not bother me at all and in fact makes me smile. 

    Now I never thought of myself as strong or level headed, but if this kind of stuff would upset you or your picture of the world, then you’d better be sure to avoid it, because while its not hard in anyway its certainly not for pussies.

    • mccrum says:

      “And one of the most common outcomes of this is being addressed by one of my daughters friends as “Mr. MyWife’sName”, which does not bother me at all and in fact makes me smile.”This happens to me all the time just as a result of how my wife didn’t take my name. Don’t mind at all.As an amusing side note I have a friend in DC who jumped through all the hoops to change her name. About a decade later it turns out that someone somewhere didn’t actually file something correctly and it may not actually be her legal name. So while some people might want to make this a law, they should just make it easier first.

  19. oneswellfoop says:

    I think the whole hyphenation thing is stupid, but that’s me.  Pick a name to share.  it doesn’t even have to have anything to do with either of your family names.  Working with adoptions, surrogacy, and family law as I do, I’m starting to see people with hyphenated names marrying other people with hyphenated names.  Then, if you want to keep your family names and hyphenate, you get to have four last names, or offend someone by removing one of them.

    The whole thing is f’ing stupid.  

  20. Marc45 says:

    This conversation seems to have more to do with the institution of marriage and the conventions and rituals surrounding marriage than the idea of changing one’s last name.  You could change your name to Maggie.com if you liked. ;)

  21. flopsy says:

    I grew up in Quebec where it’s really common for kids to have hyphenated names (I do). My husband has a single last name. If I have a kid and it’s a boy, I’ve decided he’ll get my mom’s last name-my husband’s last name. If it’s a girl, it’s be my dad’s last name-husband’s last name. Or something. There are a lot of options if you’re a bit creative about it. It’s really not a big deal. 

    But yeah, shoddy statistics suck.

    • kevin casey says:

       We (also from Quebec) have avoided the double-barreled last name strategy precisely because of this second generation issue. If there were a society-wide strategy we could get on board with, we’d be all for it. It seems like all of the solutions still devolve to gendered family names, or just picking which grandparent you liked best to pass to the next generation. For lack of a better option we’ve gone with the dominant North American strategy, my wife didn’t change her name, our kids have my last name. It’s not ideal either, my wife doesn’t have the same last name as her kids, but we’re hoping that a consensus will have emerged by the time we’re grandparents. I feel a bit gross about not finding a more progressive solution, but there it is.

  22. Vestal Vespa says:

    There is so much real, oppressive, institutionalized, awful sexism in the world, and that’s why pieces like Filipovich’s here really bug me. I don’t understand why writers like this feel like it’s necessary to use a slurry of bad information and sloppy research to frack up some misogyny when there is so much gushing freely from the ground. 

  23. madopal says:

     BTW, what happens with banks trying to have you use your mother’s maiden name as security when you have a hyphenated last name?  I have had my own security issues with this for other reasons, but I never thought about those ramifications.  They seemed pretty unprepared to not use the maiden name when I asked them not to.

    • GregS says:

      Most of the standard security questions are laughably unsecure.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      One credit card asked me to choose a password. Then when I called them, they would ask for my mother’s maiden name, which funnily enough was not j4jsnf8s. Good times.

    • As most other folks are saying, this is already a pretty silly question for banks to rely on. I know that as someone whose father isn’t a part of her life, it always makes me roll my eyes — my mother’s maiden name is her last name, and mine.

  24. wygit says:

    On returning from our first post-marriage trip out of the US, I listened to the flight attendant’s instructions for filing out the customs forms, specifying “one form per family”, so I filled out the form for both of our purchases.

    The Customs agent was very irritated that we had done so when she saw that my wife and I had different last names, because, in the agent’s eyes, “family” means “people with the same last name.”

    The agent made us both fill out individual forms with our own purchases before she would let us past the checkpoint, which, after an 11 hour flight home, made the two of us a tad irritated.

    • techdeviant says:

      I’ve had agents tell me we should just fill out one form per household, since we have the same address, even though we have different last names. Although we usually don’t have anything to declare, so maybe that is the difference to them?

      • wygit says:

         I think it may have just been a cranky agent. Our total list was like 6-7 things; t-shirts,a pen, a $20 vase, stuff like that. Nothing where duty kicked in. I’m pretty finicky about government forms. Usually.

  25. GregS says:

    I think it’s always safe to assume that any statistic that you see quoted in the press, and especially in opinion pieces, is either false or is being quoted out of context.  Yeah, sometimes they’re actually accurate, but you’ll be right more often if you assume they’re not.

  26. fakefighter says:

    Clearly I have the unpopular opinion that even “somewhat agreeing” that it was a good idea for women to be legally required to take their husband’s last name is quite worrying. I’m not a Jill Filipovic fan and I do think her wording was misleading, but I don’t know why you’d get this outraged at her. It seems like the biggest problem is that someone, somewhere might take issue with your personal choices, rather than a particularly inoffensive example of the misuse of statistics.

  27. sdmikev says:

    Honestly, I can’t believe any woman would change their name after I saw all the paperwork and headache it would be to do so.  DL, passport, work stuff, email, oy.  
    I told her from the beginning not to bother if she wasn’t into the hassle.  Didn’t matter to me.There’s a lot of weird info out there.  One person I knew asked “why doesn’t your wife have your last name?” and I answered truthfully that it seemed like a huge pain more than anything.  And relatively pointless.She says “don’t you have to change it for tax purposes?”Uh, what?

  28. To me the last name issue ought not be fundamental to your feminist credentials because if you’re from a partriarchal society, the choice is between keeping your father’s last name or accepting your husband’s last name.  Neither of those choices is particularly empowering.  Keeping your father’s last name has the same ownership issues as accepting your husband’s.  The western tradition of last names is merely a way of identifying a particularly male’s lineage.  So, there truly doesn’t seem to be a liberating feminist option if you accept the maiden v. husband’s last name dichotomy.  I know a couple who took a new mutual last name when they married; that’s a kind of way out.  But, ultimately, the last name issue is one of personal identification.  And, ultimately, if feminism has taught us anything, it’s that almost all important issues come down to personal choice.  Is sex work exploitative or liberating?  It depends upon which feminist you ask.  If feminists can’t agree there, I think we ought to allow some leeway in regards to naming options.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      To me the last name issue ought not be fundamental to your feminist credentials because if you’re from a partriarchal society, the choice is between keeping your father’s last name or accepting your husband’s last name.

      That’s a spurious argument. It’s a choice between keeping the name that you’ve used for your entire life and throwing it away. It’s a choice between dying to everyone on Earth who doesn’t know your married name and still being alive to the people who knew you as a child. Try to locate everyone who was in your second grade class. The girls have mostly disappeared.

      • marilove says:

        This is such a great point.

      • That’s a common problem the alumni engagement office faces at my mostly-women’s institution. Many of the event preregistration forms, etc. solve the problem by asking whether you used a different name while attending school, which always feels like they’re making sure they capture all your known aliases.

      • korhal says:

        Actually, you’re only tossing half your name, not the whole thing.  And really, it’s still there in public record – just follow the paper trail.

        That being said, it should be up to the woman (or man) to choose whether or not to keep their last name.  No way should it be mandatory.

    • novium says:

       I think the whole, “but it’s really your father’s name!” argument misses the point a great deal. I mean, if you’re going down that path, it’s not really your father’s name, it’s his father’s name. And so on. Until it’s really your bastard ancestor’s mother’s name, or the name your great-grandfather was given at Ellis island or whatever.  So that’s obvious a dead end, and no one’s names would be their own. No, what makes it your name is that it’s what you’ve been called all your life, it’s been your identity. I was named for my grandmother, but that doesn’t make my first name actually not mine. I wouldn’t say, “oh, I don’t mind changing my first name, it’s actually my grandmothers’” because that would be a silly reason to change it. If I’ve grown up as Jane Smith, my name is as much Smith as it is Jane.

      So yeah, maybe keeping your name isn’t empowering, but the important bit is that it isn’t dis-empowering. It isn’t erasing something fundamental to how you identify yourself.

      I think there’s also a limit to how far feminism has to respect personal choices. Respect the women making them, not hating on them, sure. But there’s also gotta be an element of calling out that, say, that a choice to go with the flow of patriarchy isn’t a feminist choice. That doesn’t make it a bad choice, or mean that feminists who  make that choice are false feminists. It just means that that particular decision didn’t exactly challenge patriarchal norms. Which is fine. But it’s worth talking about.

      • marilove says:

        I love my mom’s maiden name and her side of the family is quite fascinating (and I guess technically it’s her dad’s side of the family that is fascinating as it is his name I am so attached to).  I’d like to take it as my middle name, something I lack.

        But I also really love my (dad’s) last name. It’s a great last name. Both names are great, actually, and have a lot of obvious history behind them. So I’d NEVER give up my current (dad’s) last name.

  29. Justin Kuhn says:

    My wife has the same first name as my sister. So that was a big reason why I didn’t want her taking my last name. Add to that that I’ve always called her by her full or last name and it didn’t make any sense. I didn’t see any reason to change my name either.

  30. bardfinn says:

    The birth registrar at the hospital my son was born at couldn’t handle “[Given], Son of [My Given] and [Her Given], of the Clan [My Surname]“* as the legal name, and when we tried to compromise, couldn’t handle the æ ligature in one of his names. I should have then insisted on “Robert’); DROP TABLE Students;–”, or a GUID, but I sensed my wife was growing weary of battling the hegemony in this regard.
    So he has a legal name, which is not his traditional family name. It’s something that has been done for generations by non-European-cultured people, in the Americas, and elsewhere.

  31. Lolotehe says:

    As someone who has had to futz with user names, mailboxes, email addresses, and network shares, I am totally against the changing of the last name.

    Also, for the record, I am against daylight saving time. 

  32. inmalloria says:

    Taking “both names” it is not a custom of Spain for anyone but the kid. For instance, these two get married:

    James Smith Johnson  +  Maria Martinez Garcia

    After marriage both keep their middle and last names intact.
    (By the way, both surnames are equally important and you always provide both. Maria won’t say “Maria Garcia”)

    When they have a kid, the kid will grab a surname from each.
    By default is the last name from each but the couple can select any combination.

    Isabella Johnson Garcia (would be the typical choice but it can be also the following…)

    Isabella Garcia Johnson

    Isabella Smith Garcia

    Isabella Martinez Smith

    etc.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      In Latin America, it’s: given name – father’s surname – mother’s surname. Mostly.
      - Pedro Albizu Campos was the son of Alejandro Albizu Romero and Juana Campos.
      - Lolita Lebrón Sotomayor was the daughter of Gonzalo Lebrón Bernal and Rafaela Soto Luciano.
      - Juan Antonio Corretjer Montes was the son of Diego Corretjer Hernández and María Brígida Montes González.

      But it seems to be also true for some Spaniards, Garcia Lorca, for example.

  33. “But just like I take objection to being all judgey about personal choices, I also take objection to legally mandating personal choices, and I was kind of blown away by the idea that 50% of my fellow Americans think my last name should be illegal.”

    A-freaking-men.

  34. Pathmanson says:

    I went under three different family names during my time at school and ended up with the one i was born with, but with a different spelling after my 15th birthday when i was legally able to choose. Was a great pain when i had to change my name on schoolbags etc. The convention here in Sweden at the time was that you had to use the surname of your father as long as the mother was married to him and until she remarried. So i went from Karlsson as a prescooler to Nordwall at school, then had to be a Torgersson for several years until i was able to choose Carlsson to align with my cousins surname. Up to the seventies the woman had to change her surname to the one her husband used and the only ones that hyphenated their names was parts of the intellectual elite and the nobility(Adel). Now it’s a free-for-all and you usually have to ask people you dont know if they are married, common-laws or whatever. Last week i encountered the first case of an old buddy actually taking his wifes last name and dropping his own. Confusing as hell and it really messes up my attempts to find old friends on Facebook… ;-)

  35. plaintext says:

    “Second, there’s a difference between “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree”. Just like there’s a difference between “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree”. If you’ve ever taken a survey where those were your only choices, you know that it’s often difficult to fit your actual beliefs into the boxes.”

    Shouldn’t the analysis consider that the data is weighted?  “somewhat agree” indicates a score of 75% “strongly agree” + 25% “strongly disagree.”  My guess is that weighted analysis would show the data to be far less significant.  Also weighted scales are more accurate when there are more n-tiles, like on a scale of 0 to 10 (correcting for bias by using wording rather than numbers), rather than on a scale of 0 to 3 (quartiles.)

    The question is also problematic: “In the past, some states legally required a woman to change her name to her husband’s name. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that this was a good idea?”  The data says nothing about current opinion about current legal practices, only about people’s current opinion about past legal practices.  Someone who “strongly agrees” might be thinking, “sure it was OK back then but it wouldn’t be OK today.” The wording of “good idea” is also a big problem.  The respondent could respond “strongly agree” thinking that the laws were only loosely enforced., since although it was a good idea, it wasn’t a good practice.  Any time a question can be misconstrued, the analysis should factor that in.

  36. Ipo says:

    Koerth is very old name from one of several Germanic languages, or even Proto-Germanic, but then as title or job. 
    It means either: courageous council / councillor (compare to modern
    German: Kühner Rat and the name Conrad), or, more likely, it means:
    electoral college member / election committee member. 
    Election as in: Kür, Kur, Körung, the name Kurt, choosing.  And the Rat: Council, Rath.

    Cool and rare name.  Boy or girl, why give it up?

  37. kmwilliams says:

    I changed my surname to my mothers maiden name (legally) when I was 13. My mother followed suit a few years later. (I was an.. ahem.. independent-minded child). Since then (and as of today) we have 3 generations of women in my family who share a surname for the first time ever. And if I ever have a daughter she will share it too. Nobody in my dad’s family really understood why I changed my name and I think they were a bit hurt. But, for me, I never understood why women had to give up their names when they got married. I resented it and all it seemed to represent. So, weirdo little proto-feminist that I was, I took action. Of course I realised that there was/is no way to really reclaim a female lineage in terms of surnames since we (women, in my culture (Britain)) have never had names of our own. I remember reading ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ when I was about 16 and finding what he had to say about his decision to call himself “Malcolm X” instead of his birth name (Malcolm Little) interesting. He said (whenever old white men, mostly) challenged him in interviews about his name (‘X”) not being his “real” name that he regarded his birth name as not his “real” name either. He regarded it as his slave name. It was not his surname or his fathers surname but the surname of the former slave owners who owned/bought/kidnapped/raped his ancestors. His “real” name had been lost when his great-great-great grandparents were forcibly taken from Africa. That’s what the X represented to him. The family name that was lost. I remember thinking “at least, as a male, he once had a name”. Women have never, in British society as far back as can be traced, had names of their own. When they are born they have their fathers family name and if/when they get married they take their husbands name. I thought the only way to right that wrong (and I do perceive it to be a wrong) was to start as far back as I could with the female family I had who were still living and go from there. My grandmothers name was/is Williams. My mother (who was newly divorced at the time) was considering reverting to her maiden name. So I went with that. In an instant (at the solicitors office, with my mothers consent) I felt like I had made a positive stride forward for myself, for my nameless female ancestors, and for equality. (Sounds a bit wanky, I know. But that’s what I felt.) I don’t regret it at all.

  38. As far as I remember, I have no surname for me on my birth certificate because we don’t in the UK.  My parents names are there but no surname is attached to me.   So I have no legal surname?

  39. It’s her name, she can decide. I wanted to be a part of my wife’s life, not delete who she was, or what she’s accomplished. I can’t believe that some people actually think they have the right to tell someone who they can be.

  40. GrrrlRomeo says:

    My last name isn’t my identity. My last name is just my father’s last name, and I’m not very close to that side of my family. When I marry my wife, I plan to take her last name because she was closer to her father. I just want us to have the same last name. But honestly, if I could, I’d pick my mother’s maiden name.

  41. korhal says:

    My wife still has her own last name.  She can change it if she wants to, but it really doesn’t bother me what her last name is – I’m still married to the same person.

  42. Sally Amanda says:

    Names and name changes are a really important thing in my industry, as your entire past portfolio is linked to your name, and you can’t retroactively change credits. It was a big discussion between my husband and I, in fact, as we work in the same industry and he was aware I’d lose over a dozen years worth of portfolio if I changed my name to his. I couldn’t hyphenate either, as the resulting name sounded like “Mrs. Reddish-Brown”. So I kept my name for career reasons, and had his full support and encouragement because he didn’t want to be Mr. Reddish-Brown either.

  43. teapot says:

    Apparently about 1/3 of Americans are fools who like wasting their money and hate tasty food, so… there’s that…

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