Men with low education levels view women who retain their surnames in marriage as less committed wives than women who take their husband’s surname after tying the knot, according to new American research.
Conversely, the study found last-name choice appears to have little impact on how women are viewed among other women and highly educated men.
The current trend
Associate Professor Yvonne Corcoran-Nantes, head of Women’s Studies at Flinders University, says about 75 per cent of Australian women take their husband’s name after marriage and that attitudes to the practice have become more conservative in recent years.
“Most people live together before they get married and the getting married part seems to be more of a commitment, and part of the commitment is changing your name,” she says.
“There’s a very high expectation by men that women will take their name. No matter how we see marriage, there’s still a certain possession aspect to it, that you belong to somebody. That sense of belonging to somebody is far more in the male psyche than in the female psyche.”
But Associate Professor Corcoran-Nantes believes the effect is potentially more common among highly educated men compared to men with lower education levels.
“It’s highly likely that people with status and money will be far more expecting that their partner would willingly take their name because people would look at them differently if their wife wasn’t interested in taking their name,” she says.
Talking to both sides
Sydney-based account director Lena Kilborne says the decision to switch to her husband’s name after marriage wasn’t difficult, especially as her husband supported the decision.
“I knew when I got married I would always take my husband’s name,” she says. “I loved the idea of it unifying my husband and I, particularly as we’ll start having kids in the next few years.
“It meant a lot to my husband, so he was so happy to know I would be changing my name. His dad and grandmother are very proud of the family name so it was really special for them to see me take it on.”
At the other end of the name-changing spectrum, Ally Faithful, a business development manager from Melbourne, chose to retain her surname after marriage – also with the backing of her husband.
“[It’s because of] the connection and bond I had with my name, plus [it’s] always been a talking point and a door-opener throughout my career,” she says.
“The response was mostly positive and supportive and, to be honest, it was just never a big deal within my circles.”
There are no legal ramifications – or benefits – to either option as married and de facto couples are treated equally under Australian law.
Ultimately, Associate Professor Corcoran-Nantes says women should give serious thought to the decision and make a choice based on their values.
“If you have reasons to do what other people might find very conservative or progressive, you have to give it thought and you have to think about the future,” she says.