Joanna Davies makes the case for bucking tradition (which is based on some very dodgy values) and keeping her surname after she is married

This article is a re-post from Fathom Consulting's Thank Fathom its Friday: "A sideways look at economics". It is here with permission


By Joanna Davies*

Visiting family last weekend, I found myself having to answer a question that I’ve heard on a regular basis since my engagement a little over two years ago, and which has become even more pressing in the eyes of my mother-in-law since the wedding last month: do I intend to change my surname?

The answer is “no”. I’m not entirely sure why, and I’m even less sure how to explain that to my mother-in-law.

Perhaps I’ve over-binged on the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In this patriarchal world, the female lead is referred to and known only by the name ‘Offred’, a reflection that she is the possession of Fred Waterford, her master.

Although the world we live in is a far cry from that conjured up by Margaret Atwood, the expectation that a female should take the name of the ‘man of the house’ still seems to be prevalent, as evidenced by the abundance of well-wishers addressing cards to who they presume to be the new ‘Mr and Mrs S. Attard’.

This tradition of assuming the husband’s name originates from an abolished, and far-from-rosy, legal principle known as coverture. This stipulated that upon marriage “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended”. In other words, she ceased to exist! In keeping with this, the husband took ownership of any assets that the woman held, while the woman lost her right to own property, sign legal documents, enter into a contract, or even keep a salary for herself.

Despite its unsavoury origin, I was surprised to discover that the vast majority of women still change their surname. A 2016 YouGov poll found that only 14% of women planned to retain their maiden name after marriage, a lower percentage than other studies suggest was the case in the 1980s — a time when doing so may have carried stronger connotations with equality and the abolition of coverture.

So, what motivates the small minority of brides that buck the name-change convention today, and can my findings help appease my mother-in-law?

Surprisingly, my less-than-scrupulous research method, which involved asking friends about the recently married women they know, produced a similar result to that of the YouGov poll, with 16% opting to keep their maiden name after the confetti had settled. Just under 5% opted to double-barrel, while the remaining 79% took their husband’s surname.

Using the additional information that my friends provided — age, education, job, and dependents (both pets and children) at the time of marriage — it’s possible to test which of these characteristics most influence a bride’s decision to ‘keep’ her maiden name. The regression results are displayed below, with bold text highlighting those of statistical significance at the 5% level.

The most important factor, it would seem, is the educational attainment of the bride, followed by her age. Both have positive coefficients, indicating that older and wiser brides are more likely to break with tradition than those on the nicer side of thirty. A consequence, perhaps, of having become more attached to their maiden name for professional or personal reasons over the years.

Put simply, they may have “made a name for themselves”!

In doing so, their name has become an intangible asset, it has ‘reputational’ value. And although hard to quantify, in their field their name may carry more weight than the groom’s does, perhaps explaining their decision. Equally, for others, changing names could provide an opportunity to trade up, benefiting from the ‘reputational’ effect of their husband’s name in a world of imperfect information.

And although job seniority is statistically insignificant in my sample, research suggests that more comprehensive measures of socio-economic status are positively signed and meaningful. Even within my sample, it was the likes of vets, doctors and lawyers (those least likely to be on first-name terms with their clients and deemed to be within the ‘professional class’) that kept their own surname. Teachers were the notable exception to that rule — the apparent difference being their socio-economic status! Another study based on US data from 2001 found that brides with an occupation in the arts — writer, editor, artist, actor etc. — were also more likely to keep their maiden name. The odds were even higher if the groom had a Ph.D, or the father-in-law was in the arts or academia. Grooms with patrimonial suffixes (Snr, Jnr) had the opposite effect.

According to my analysis, neither pets nor children were statistically significant, although I suspect (for the latter at least) this was a sampling issue.[1] There are bound to be other influences that my (admittedly simple) model fails to capture too, such as religion, family expectations and peer effects. It also ignores those that subsequently change their name after having kids. Indeed, plugging in both the mean age of brides in the UK[2] and the average educational attainment of a women at that age suggests that about 33% opt to retain their maiden name after marriage — a lofty estimate!

But one thing is certain, these findings are unlikely to reassure my mother-in-law, whose youngest is likely to drag his heels just as long as his elder brother, day-by-day reducing the odds of a conventional bride!


[1] Due to my data collection technique, I was unable to ascertain whether the children had the bride’s pre-marital surname or the groom’s surname, and therefore the likely direction of influence.

[2] Which is 35.1 according to the ONS.


Jonanna Davies is an economist at Fathom Consulting in London, England. This article is a re-post from Fathom Consulting's Thank Fathom its Friday: "A sideways look at economics". It is here with permission

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60 Comments

In PNG they have a great saying to indicate an issue of little importance: 'a something-nothing'. It applies to the wife's surname. The serious question is the family name of the children. Yet again we can learn from some of the PNG tribal traditions where the father's first name becomes the child's second name so you get names such as John Bob and Heni Heni.
Thirty years ago I worked with a Canadian couple and they decided to merge their surnames Johnson and Molross to form a surname they both used of 'Molson'.

Similar story after a doctorate, myself and my partner were looking at changing our last names to Strange, but in the end decided on another similar option. Memorable names are good and yes while geeky Dr Strange still has a place in our hearts. The only downside to changing your name is managing updates (much like updating your address or email with everyone).

Some years ago a man in England announced that as a Xmas present he had changed the family surname to 'Robinson'. His wife was livid and insisted it was changed back immediately saying "I married you as 'Mudd' and 'Mudd' I will remain".

Interesting story Joanna but how is this relevant. Best wishes for the wedding, something I've heard is that some brides spend all their energy and time planning the wedding but don't plan their married life, and the fairytale wedding becomes a nightmare marriage which is sad

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Not sure what the issue is; go with whatever suits you. Nobody else is going to be concerned.

Exactly I’ve known a few wives
One used her husbands surname One used her own name One used both her own & her husbands surname
Go figure women do as they Please I’ve found

Relevance: marriage does relate to household formation, and there are economic reasons for couples setting up a home.
2 incomes are better than one. 2 can live almost as cheaply as 1.
Easier to buy a house & get a mortgage as a couple.
https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/81832/5/MPRA_paper_81059.pdf

Marriage is not required for any of that. Frankly, aside from a few minor legal issues, its a waste of time and money these days, just an expensive party to shut the bride up usually.

Not much pragmatism shown there

Sorry to burst your bubble, but as you say in your own post, for pretty much all legal purposes you are the same status as being married after living together for several years.. so why waste $30k on a day of dressups and a big party when that $30k could be put to better use paying off a mortgage or invested elsewhere

Cynicism very disappointing, Pragmatist. After all, at the end of the day a wedding is the biggest possible day in the life of just two people. Her mother and yours.

Not cynicism, just a rejection of the superctitous BS attached to marriage, and practicality in these days of unaffordable hosue prices. $30k dress up party or $30k more deposit for a house? Pick one.

Not the bride, the bride's family. Very important distinction that. Although my own family were upset when x member of x cousin family was not invited. So both sides have family that are hung up on the marriage being more respectable than a defacto business relationship. I can tell you now in a court of law they do not differ that much. Oh gads even friends use marriage as a one-upmanship.

Yep, this is one consequence of womens lib. Needing two incomes to afford a house. Just saying.

It may well be, but why should women have to remain slaves to a kitchen, under the control of some man or other in order for that not to be the case.

Probably because there's a lack of women who are 1. earning six figures and 2. happy for their husband to stay home, cook and clean.

Hell, I'd sign up for it. Oppress me!

I am sure you would soon tire of mindlessness of household chores that seem never to be done when you have small children. It is no picnic, actually

Describes me - retired with live-in grandchild under 2. Having the time of my life - everyday is a picnic. Of course not everyone (in fact nobody) has a toddler as wonderful as my granddaughter.

I never claimed it was a picnic. Neither is commuting then working 9-6, 5 days a week.

Effectively the salary in most professional careers has been eroded in terms of the ability to purchase a house. Conversely you could say that competition has pushed up the price of housing, to the same effect.
Anyway, it now requires two salaries to buy what it used to take one salary.
Most women appear to want to work so maybe its a good thing for them? Well regardless, from now on they will HAVE to work so that their family can keep up with the Jones's. If indeed they have the desire to have a family.

We are also talking of people who will enter their older years probably minus a pension, them being expected to have provided for that themselves. This, I believe, will apply to both men and women.

If marriage is stripped of all tradition, and is reduced to cohabitation with women who have adopted so many masculine traits that they border on sexless - men will continue to reject it.

Keep your last name, and we'll keep our assets!

to cohabitation with women who have adopted so many masculine traits that they border on sexless - men will continue to reject it.

And you probably wonder why you have no luck with the ladies..

Heh yeah advice on 'luck with ladies' from pragmatist..... please tell me more

I offered no advice. Nice strawman

This will be fun, name one trait that a woman could not also perform. Outside of a specific kind of masturbation the male, female division of labour is largely irrelevant. Most builders use tools which reduce physical effort and most kitchen jobs go to guys. Being in the kitchen is as much a man's domain as a woman's. Likewise educated DIY can be achieved by both. Fashion: nope male and female designers are prominent, STEM: likewise male and female achievement is notable and for the women who were rich enough to be allowed to choose the industry early on we can thank for some of our most notable scientific achievements. So go on. Really I cannot wait for your limp response. I need another chuckle. If you start with that caring BS I will equally throw at you that men care for their children and other humans as well.

Trait - well you are right. On average many things - men tend to be taller so I take items off the top shelf in the kitchen where the others don't (but then can use a chair if I;m not available and note both my sisters married men shorter than themselves). The on average many things split into those caused by nurture (my grand daughter under 2 already has a feminine upbringing) and nature where it gets interesting.

dp

Men can't have babies ;)

This will be fun, name one trait that a woman could not also perform.

Not sure what relevance this question has to my original comment?

I put it to you that ra-ra women who want to keep their own last name and want a career at the expense of family aren't really that attractive to men who want to settle down and marry. Marriage rates are falling, divorce rates are climbing - what do you think the reason is?

Why would a man care if a woman takes their name? I wouldn't take my partner's name, so why would I expect her to take my name? Maybe the old ideas of ownership haven't quite died out yet.

In NZ you are legally married for all intents & legal purposes after cohabitation for a period which doesn’t even require you to live in the same household all the time as defined by NZ law
Your assets in the home become joint assets unless you have made an agreement
You are married regardless of your paranoia about signing a legal marriage document or paranoia about being on display at a formal wedding occasion
Frankly men of my generation have been weak Have multiple children yet still can’t be bothered. A bit like the type of male that expects his wife to get her tubes tied instead of having a very simple vasectomy
The female version being far more risky procedure.
A guy isn’t the he man he imagines himself to be if he can’t even face a marriage agreement or a wedding http://www.smithpartners.co.nz/library/articles/family-law/what-is-a-de-...
Hope you have a great summer kiwis

Our son married a really nice girl who happened to have the same name is one of our daughters. The daughterinlaw was all traditional and changed her surname but our daughter was stuff that I'm not going to change. So we end up with two with the same name in the family. Confusing. Five couples , two changed, three didn't.

Personally I don't care if a woman changes her name or not. But the hyphenated option is really really insipid in my view. And if that happened again and again look at how long the name would become. Ridiculous.
My wife changed her name to keep things simple but she had first crack at the childrens christian names. Good deal all round.
Another option was a lady from work 30 yrs ago who had one surname for work purposes (maiden) and her husbands surname for out of work. Kind of worked but I'm sure there were problems from time to time for her.

Plenty in the news media and radio industry with hyphenated names.

Don’t change your name Joanna. I am 80 and in my day it was not even thought of. I have tried in the last few years to change my name back and it is quite easy. You just have to show your birth and marriage certificates. However it is better to do the hard ones first eg the passport and drivers licence because otherwise you can’t remember who you are.....
The next step is for girls to take their mother’s name and for boys to take their father’s.

What about the children?
Marriage was for the protection and care of children - a stable economic unit which gave women or men the freedom of at least one of them being able to nurture them for a few years without slaving their lives to the corporation.
But no, we knew better - get everyone working full time, drag the poor kids to nursery farms, buy overpriced houses with prices pumped up by the 2 income household, strain to feed the mortgage.
I think our parents provided a better environment for kids.

Having mum OR dad stay home is a pretty recent phenomenon, I think you are talking of a time when it was just about 100% mum at home.
Think about it though, one partner out to work, one at home, one lot of taxes paid.
Both at work, 2 taxes, plus all the taxes to those required to look after the kids.
But what are you advocating, that the working parent be on a higher salary/wage than those with both working or singles or those with no kids?

Tax should be less percentage wise shouldn’t it, if two people are working, but for lesser amounts, than one person earning the same amount as their combined incomes.? Eg less tax in two people earning 60k vs the tax on one person earning 120k, due to the tax brackets.. So when both people are working for the combined 120k, the tax should be less shouldn’t it?

My brother has recently stopped working to look after kids, and the wife has moved to a higher paying job to compensate for the loss of two incomes. The downside I see though is a loss in career progression for him. You could say the same if he was the wife, but it seems quite rare these days for both parents not to at least have a part time job.

It is obvious that we should be able to transfer income from one parent to another. It does happen when someone is self-employed - they just use their non-working partner as an 'employee' for tax purposes; maybe all they do is answer the phone.

The IRD looks at that rather poorly. It's a form of tax evasion. https://www.ird.govt.nz/payroll-employers/employ-staff/spouse/emp-employ...

Of course they do. The state is just another monopoly after all.

Income splitting for taxation purposes, way back in the dim darks, this was a policy of United Future and Peter Dunne, somewhere along the track, he forgot about it, but I thought it made perfect sense.

And once again, further down the track we will run into problems when these people reach retirement age without having been able to save a good amount for it. It is one of the reasons I reckon people should fight tooth and nail to maintain a universal pension.

If the pension was not universal I would spend or give away or hide all my wealth and apply for special benefit - in our society the govt may act tough but it will not let the elderly starve in front of parliament.

Even with mass migration NZ is becoming an aged society. A universal pension can't continue, unless you want to cripple the economy.

The pension has to be universal otherwise it becomes very expensive to administer and rather easy to rort. However it ought to be based on a given number of years before average age of death - say 12 years of pension on average - I think that would put it at 68.
True, mass migration is making it a harder not an easier problem with our average wages tending towards 3rd world.

Mass migration is entirely down to growing the population, to keep our nominal GDP up, and to keep the pension afloat. A policy by baby-boomers, for baby-boomers.

We should not have a pension at all. It's a direct wealth transfer from my generation to the previous one. Maybe my generation will get it... at half the price adjusted for inflation, at age 75. After having been taxed to death to pay for the luckiest generation a live.

So what's the plan for all the women who played nice, nice in the frilly pinny at home when they reach retirement.
Gee might there be a market for suttee in this country at some time

Are you literally so blinded by socialism that you can't think of a scenario where an old mother is taken care of in her old age that doesn't involve the government?

Have a think, and come back to me.

Can you not have a a stable economic union, or care and protection of the children without a piece of paper called a marriage certificate?

it is not the paper. I have family from PNG and with over 800 dramatically differing languages and astonishing varied cultures (both patriarchal and matriarchal) they all have marriage. So your definition should be "public statement of commitment to a partnership". That definition lets in the newest form or marriage: the same sex marriage; it also permits polygamy.

And yet the most public and dramatic commitment ceremonies are the most fragile.. ergo Hollywood marriages.

Probably not. For many people it is a psychological thing.

If you make a public statement then you are less likely to break it. The absolutely overwhelming evidence is that a couple bring up a child better than one parent. So marriage is a very important matter. In NZ a publicly accepted relationship needs no paper nor even a specific date. My own partnership sort of evolved and the nearest to an announcement was to the dept of Immigration to establish residency. However everyone who knows either of us know we are 'married'.

You surely assign magic powers to a bit of paper.

I agree but don’t have any evidence to support it as relationships fall apart no matter what the legal structure. I ran into this discussion with my now wife who had been to dinner with her friend. She asked to keep her maiden name, I replied that was fine but we wouldn’t be getting married and her expat days would be shortened as many work permits don’t allow for unmarried partners. She relented and now counsels women to get their men to make them honest. She’s seen how many shacked up couples have split leaving the women in difficult circumstances because the law of the country didn’t recognise de facto relationships. It isn’t that hard but commitment phobes love the women’s lib line. If the marriage breaks up, go back to the maiden name but get that tight ar$e to put a ring on it and pay for an appropriate ceremony. Simple.

I know a young woman who has dual citizenship - NZ & and EU country. EU country won't put her married name on her passport - it has to be her maiden name. When she objected she was told 'We could put your married name in small letters underneath if you like'. She thought that would cause confusion so just has her maiden name on it.

Marriage or even cohabitation is a huge detriment if one of you has a disability, (as happened to a few clients). Notably as the other person is then expected to take on a 24/7 unpaid carer full time job instead of their own career by the government departments. Either they will be forced out of work or you will be unable to receive medical needed nursing care (even for a couple of hours). Both ways the level of medical care is dropped to dangerous levels where loss of life due to injury is a very real possibility and the loss of their income is a significant financial handicap due to the government banning payment to spouse carers yet expecting them to take on the full time role regardless, (even though they are perfectly happy to pay other family members or carers the full amount of the low $19/hr for a role that expects trained medical experience). It is really odd. In essence if you are disabled avoid formal relationships like the plague. Losing access to basic medical care or your partner being out of work can mean a lot to both of you (as you may both lose the ability to work through lack of access). Better both staying in work, (enjoying career and achievements therein) with the modicum of care and paying taxes to the government than both being out of work and requiring more serious specialist level medical care from basic loss of nursing. Hard to see how National even thought that was a good idea on the financial end. It is not robbing Peter to pay Paul, it is poisoning Peter, paying his medical insurance & lost income to Paul, and then forcing Paul out of work and paying his income as well (however both much less than otherwise wages received, and completely inadequate to rent or live on). Completely buggy when both Peter and Paul could be in work with a minor modicum of medical care, even if only subsidised above a wage bracket, much like for those in retirement.

Deserves a full article