Women Changing Name After Marriage: A Modern Perspective



A recent Pew survey reveals changing trends in the practice of women changing name after marriage. This cultural shift, rooted in historical legal norms, has been evolving, particularly among younger generations and highly educated women.

Breaking Traditions: Women Changing Name After Marriage

Michelle Lin, a 28-year-old New Yorker engaged to be married, represents a growing cohort of women who choose to retain their maiden names.

She values her name as an integral part of her identity, a connection to her family heritage, and an emblem of her academic accomplishments. This sentiment resonates with many young women, who are increasingly opting to preserve their names in marriage.

Pew Research Center’s survey encompassed over 2,400 married individuals and 955 unmarried respondents, shedding light on changing perspectives regarding marital name changes. The data underscores that men predominantly maintain their last names (92%), while only 5% opt to change, and less than 1% hyphenate their names with their spouses’.

For women, there is more diversity in choices. Approximately 80% of married women in opposite-sex relationships adopted their husband’s last names, whereas 14% retained their own, and 5% embraced hyphenation. Age and education emerge as influential factors. Older women are more inclined to adopt their husband’s name (9% among those aged 50 and above), while a significant 20% of women aged 18 to 49 choose to retain their names. Notably, 26% of women with postgraduate degrees maintain their maiden names.

Unmarried women also expressed their perspectives, with only 33% indicating a willingness to take their partner’s name, 23% opting to keep their own, 17% favoring hyphenation, and 24% remaining undecided. Melanie Mayer, 27, from New York City, embodies the ambivalence surrounding this decision, acknowledging the tradition’s patriarchal origins while appreciating the concept of a family sharing the same last name, irrespective of gender.

This shifting landscape reflects a broader cultural transformation as women gain social power and independence. Younger generations are increasingly rejecting the notion of name change as a symbol of subservience, embracing their individual identities and autonomy.

Catherine Allgor, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, traces the tradition of women adopting their husband’s names back to the legal concept of coverture, imported from England. This archaic law stripped women of legal identity upon marriage, leading to their absorption into their husbands’ identities. Although coverture has been eroded over time, remnants of its influence persisted.

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