That Damned “Maiden” Name Thing

I have not found a credible statistic on the number of women who marry and keep their current last names–rather than change to their new husband’s last name (and I know I could have an entirely OTHER posting on gay and lesbian couples—one very close friend changed her name when she married her partner—but allow me to focus on the heteros for now).  The last time I found a credible statistic, years ago, I found that only 4% of women kept their last names.

4 (four) percent.

That still pisses me off.

I’m one of those 4% (though I certainly hope the number has risen).  I had the usual reasons:

  • married in my 30s
  • have several degrees with that original name
  • do not have children

Interestingly, at least to me, my “maiden” name is of a man who did not raise me nor give me any DNA–long story–but since it  is a rather comfortable, pleasant name, one that I simply got used to despite it being a bit odd (let’s say I don’t necessarily have the ethnic “look” of my “maiden” name), I have never had a desire to discard it. 

So yes, in my case it was not only my choice, but it was an easy choice. The only person who has  complained about my decision is, passive aggressively, mom, who sends all correspondence (and checks!)  to Mrs. Annie’s Husband’s Last Name. 

Luckily my bank has accepted this inevitability each Xmas and cashes the checks anyway.

I have a few colleagues who have kept their names (I hate the word “maiden” name, frankly, since I lost any technical maidenhood long, long before I actually married), but we are still a rare bunch. And students are always surprised/embarrassed to realize that yes, I am married to another English professor and no, I really don’t want you to complain about him to me (but yes, go ahead and praise him).

Well, the whole name thing has come up again with a good friend of mine who has just had a beautiful and  soon to reveal her brilliance baby girl.  For months now she has been asked about baby’s last name since she has kept her own last name: will you hypenate? whose name will go first? why not just YOUR name? or will it be HIS name?

Tonight, the mystery has been solved: because her hubby’s mother made the loudest noise, baby will have a hyphenated name with her name first, his name second. And this, alas, to my mind means the baby will ultimately have his last name.  It’s not a bad last name.  But I feel like another battle has been lost.


28 responses to “That Damned “Maiden” Name Thing

  1. I married in my thirties and was within a year of my Ph.D. when I got married. I also knew I wanted children. But I kept my name. It doesn’t even remotely bother me that my son, now three, has his father’s (my partner’s) surname.

    It does bother me when friends assume I kept my name because I’m proud of my “Hispanic heritage.” OMG I hate that.

  2. When I was younger, I didn’t care for my birth name, but when I married I kept it anyway; it didn’t even occur to me to change it. My father-in-law was stunned, claiming he never had heard of a woman not changing her name! After 20 years, I still often get invitations and correspondence from his side of the family addressed to Mrs. SweetCliffie Fellowe — I don’t even rate a first name, let alone a last! Now THAT irritates me beyond all measure.

    OTOH, I can’t really consider keeping the birth name any sort of triumph, since it’s really just another form of male marking. I once heard of a woman who made her own last name using Scandinavian matronymics as the basis: she called herself something like Amy Margotsdottir. I always loved that because it would make my last name “Evesdottir.”

  3. Pingback: pocha

  4. I’ve been married twice, didn’t change my name either time. It never occurred to me that I would want to. I did already have my PhD, and the idea of changing it seemed really inconvenient … and why? I just couldn’t figure out WHY I would want to do that. Like, you have to make an effort to do it. Much easier to leave things as they are.

    Now I have a daughter. She has my husband’s last name, which is fine. I didn’t really push for it to be otherwise, and neither of us is a fan of hyphens (or of giving the poor child 5 syllables and 17 characters in her last name). We gave her my middle name, which is distinctive. If we have another child, ze will have my husband’s last name, too. It just isn’t an issue for me. I guess the choice of birth name doesn’t matter much to me (I have no strong ties to the idea of others bearing my last name), but the idea of changing my own name that I’ve had for 30+ years is just … no. Not happening.

    But I’m constantly surprised by how many women do change their names, especially in academe. I would think given publications etc. they would just leave it be (isn’t it easier that way?).

  5. Well, look at the very unscientific survey of raw academic bloggers: you three (Pocha, Squadro, Profgrrrl) have kept your names! Interesting…. If the number today is up to 6% (thanks, Pocha), I’m now curious how many of those women are published/academics who wanted the name they made for themselves to stay the same?

    I do love the Scandinavian thing: I’d be Jansdottir! Beautiful….

  6. I am not married but if I was, I would not change my name — for all the reasons you cite. Like Squadrato, I realize that my surname is laden with patriarchal ownership, no more pure than my partner’s name would be … but, what’s a girl to do?

    Even though I’m not married, I still receive mail etc. addressed to Mrs. Golden Boy. (grinding teeth)

    My friends who are also academics, and who have not changed their last names, have — universally — given their children their husbands’ last names. Some have hyphenated (his name last), some have given their surnames as middle names … but always the husband’s name is that which gets passed on to the children. It seems terribly hard to escape that tradition, no matter how progressive you are.

    I once got into a massive fight with a close friend when I said that I thought women changing their names was outdated, sexist, etc. She subsequently got married, changed her name, then got divorced, had to change her name back (no easy feat), then got married again … and didn’t change her name. So, I think I won that argument.

  7. Yes, I have several friends who changed their names the first marriage, but not the second (and others who changed it each time—such a bother).

    The friend whose baby naming prompted this post had actually almost convinced her husband that the baby could have HER last name (which she didn’t change), but the mother in law protested so loudly that they both gave in to save the peace. Since I haven’t had kids, and I don’t have a mother in law, I can’t judge how I’d act in such a situation, but kids do change things. Of course, my friend’s baby is a girl, so she may end up changing her name in 25-35 years anyway;-)

    You really get mail addressed to MRS., BSGirl? How odd….And on a related note: doesn’t it bug you when students call you Mrs. (they have no trouble calling male profs Professor, but women profs, we get Mrs. and I always have to give the song and dance about why I hate MRS. since not to do so will just make me hate the student every time they used the term….).

  8. Wow, that is a very low statistic, but not surprising when I consider the surprised looks I got from many when I got married and decided not to change my name. The most surprising reaction I got was from a high school friend who said something like “Is this just one of your feminist things?” I flipped out.

    I heard a lot of arguments that went along the lines with, “Women should change their names because now you are creating a family.” Well, that doesn’t make any sense. The other argument is always about the children. I think my husband and I can take care of that when the time comes, thank you very much.

    Ugh, but the one thing that really gets me going is when women, real-life educated smart sane women write their names as Mrs. His First Name His Last Name.

    Anyways, in my department, it appears to be half and half with the name changers.

  9. Kids often seem to be the sticking point. I know a number of women who kept their own names *until* they became pregnant. Then, all of a sudden, they took their husband’s name (usually keeping their birth name as a non-hyphenated middle name), and named the child with the husband’s name as well. And though I never had kids, I am absolutely certain that my in-laws would have had a huge fit if any grandchild of their son had a different last name. (These are the people who told us that if we had children and did not raise them Jewish, they would not love them.)
    It’s one of the reasons I think having children never appealed to me… it always seemed like bringing kids into my life would involve a never-ending struggle against the forces of conservative social tradition.

  10. EngAdj: 1/2 of the women in your dept kept their names? That does prove something about the rebelliousness of academic women (are they 2% of the 4%??).

    Squad: they wouldn’t love children not raised Jewish? Now that is just nasty. That would certainly have put me off “giving” them grandchildren. Did any of their other children test them on this?

  11. Annie, my reaction was much the same. I was pretty sure from a young age that I didn’t want kids, but of course in my 20s and 30s I gave it *some* thought. The in-laws’ reaction was yet another strike against.
    All the other siblings-in-law kids married Jews and raised their children accordingly; SweetCliffie is the black sheep who married out and didn’t have kids at all.

  12. This is very interesting, especially since my classes just read that article from a while ago about women in Ivy league schools who planned to be stay at home moms and change their names upon marriage. I chose to hyphenate; I had planned to simply have two last names, using one professionally and one personally, but I quickly realized that nobody was going to cooperate with that. When I got married, I really didn’t want to change it at all, but I hadn’ t finished my PhD yet didn’t have publications either, so I just kind of gave in. Having children and giving them my husband’s name makes me feel much more connected to it, and I like the cohesiveness of our “family name.” Of course, my children have two middle names–one normal one and my “maiden name”; they can do whatever they want when they’re older. I just wanted them to have my family name, too, and if I could have given them my mother’s family name and grandmother’s, I would have! I also still have the issues of being called “Mrs.” rather than “Dr.” and the people who hear me say BOTH last names and then immediately call me only my husband’s name.

    I also agree that women in academics seem to have the most guts in refusing to conform!

  13. Patriarchy is powerful, so very powerful.

    There’s no escape from within marriage, the most patriarchal of social institutions (or close, anyway).

    I do know a woman who chose her own name, making it from the initials of her children’s first names. I know a male who changed his name to his wife’s name when they married. So I guess there are ways to resist.

  14. Annie- It is around that number from my informal survey. What is interesting is the married men of the department-if their wives are not in academics, chances are they changed their names. I hope I don’t sound judgmental, but I find that interesting.

  15. Not at all judgmental, EngAdj: as Bardiac notes, it is a patriarchal institution (marriage, tho one might argue that of academia, which is why it’s so fascinating that so many women academics are bucking the system).

    Yes, academia: my hubby’s alma mater has “discovered” he has remarried, and they now send pleas for donations to Mr. and Mrs. Hubby’s Last Name.

    And academia: the scholarship fund group on my campus, to which I’ve been donating for 15 years, send us letters to Mr. and Mrs. Hubby’s Last Name. My hubby, bless his soul, has written to complain that DR. Annie’s last name is the one making the donations, not hubby, so they better damn well address letters to HER and her alone, or if their software prefers, to Dr. and Mr. Annie’s Last Name.

    We received a very sheepish reply from the director the next day;-)

  16. Despite my nom de blogue, IRL I use the name I was born with. I was 14 when I decided I was never changing my name, and I’ve had no reason to change my mind since then. My relationship with my mother was such that I’d much rather carry my father’s name than be MomsFirstnameDottir, but she was the most annoying person to call me Mrs John Hull. I don’t so much mind it from stray relations of Sir John’s who know nothing about me, only that Sir John now has a wife. I have a friend who not only kept her name when she married, but passed her name to her sons: her husband’s name is unusual, difficult both to pronounce and to spell.

  17. Hiya! Here via Feministe 😀

    Add me into the category of (proto-, at any rate) academic women who have no intention of changing their names. For what it’s worth, I’m in my final year of an undergrad degree in English, just been offered a Masters place, and am thinking about PhD topics … so not a real academic for years yet, but on the way.

    I don’t know if anyone else has done this – maybe it’s just generally my having less confidence than someone who’s already gotten married and braved the storm – but quite often, when the subject of name-changing comes up, I hide behind the publication excuse. It seems like people will accept a practical reason to keep my name without demur, but every time I just say “I believe that name-changing on marriage is inherently sexist and the expectation of it is bad for women,” I have to argue it out at enormous length and only rarely actually convince anyone.

    I feel bad about not being more forward about my reasons but goddamn, if I have one more person tell me I can’t possibly really love my boyfriend because I’m not willing to sublimate my identity into his (in the unlikely event we get married at all) I may explode …

    Also, I’m British, and I imagine the UK has slightly different stats. Probably not very different, but I’d guess that our relative lack of religious fundamentalists and generally more left-wing politics would push the percentage a little higher than 4%. We have a few high-profile women who’ve kept their names as well – Cherie Booth (the wife of ex-prime minister Tony Blair) is the first who springs to mind.

  18. Thanks for visiting Wickedday! And yes, I’d love to know what the British stats are—our political women so obviously change their names (Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Clinton–sigh).

    And you make an excellent point: the “practical” reasons (I’ve published, my degrees are in this name, etc) definitely “appease” those who are appalled moreso than any feminist explanation. That’s what I told my mother, anyway, though she still fights it;-)

    Good luck with your studies: is the job market in England a bit better than in the states?

  19. A spot of Google-fu produced this survey, evidently done in honour of Veet’s name-change (from Immac) which puts it in 2003. So out of date, but not as out of date as it might have been.

    It says that 12% of British women said they planned to keep their name, but only 5% actually did. That’s a lot of caving to pressure.

    I note that the would definitely change/did change stat – 60-70% elsewhere – drops to only 44% in London. London’s vastly more cosmopolitan than just about everywhere else, but still, that’s a huge discrepancy!

    Off-topic, the academic job market isn’t looking great – it’s likely that universities are going to lose out hard if we get a (probable) Conservative government at the election in May. My own uni has been told to lose £35m of spending already (around $52m), which works out to about 700 jobs gone. Our English dept is losing ~12 lecturers and then having a 5-year hiring freeze. It isn’t good.

    On the other hand, I have no idea whether that’s bad by US standards. I get the impression that we’ve had it soft by comparison, what with a long run on socialised higher education. (We didn’t have to pay tuition fees at all until 2005.)

    But anyway, short answer, it’s bad enough that I’m considering getting the PhD and moving to the Antipodes. Apparently they need academics out there …

  20. Fascinating: so not much higher than US women “cave”;)

    Ah, sounds like your university is going thru what many are in the US, alas. Do your have the same issues with the over-reliance on part time/contingent faculty, too? (visit for more on that issue). I’m at a community college (a 2-year transfer/professional college) so we are not experiencing the same job losses, though we do have too few tenure track/full time positions and too many underpaid part time positions.

    What field are you in? And where is Antipodes? I know many on the academic job market who may want that information! 😉

    Good luck!

  21. We don’t have many part-time staff, I don’t think, but a fair few short-contract people – a year or two years – and a lot of the seminar teaching for compulsory undergraduate modules is done by second- and third-year PhDs. Over-reliance on grad students is definitely something that’s been brought up, and it’ll probably only get worse.

    My field is medieval English literature. I’m wavering over whether to do my MA thesis on late medieval romance or Anglo-Saxon poetry – thankfully I don’t have to decide till about this time next year.

    ‘The Antipodes’ = Australia and New Zealand. I was under the impression that this was a worldwide term, but Wikipedia tells me it’s peculiar to Britain. My bad.

    NZ, I know, is generally welcoming of ‘skilled immigrants’, which included academics the last time I checked the list. Australia I believe are also short, but have a much stricter immigration policy.

  22. NZ and Australia are places I’ve always wished to visit!

    If you don’t already, two US publications available online at least in part (The Chronicle of Higher Education and both often discuss academic issues in the U.S., and sometimes (tho rarely) abroad—-over-reliance on part timers or grad students definitely limits the number of full time jobs generally, so I suspect you all are going thru somewhat related problems..

    I’m partial to Medieval Romance, but then again, I’m an Americanist;-)

    Good luck with your work, Wicked!

  23. One more comment on this subject!

    This weekend, a friend of mine begged me to reconsider not taking my husband’s name. This friend has a hyphenated name made up of her mother and father’s last names. This friend has a child and is a single mother. She now hates her hyphenated name because every time she fills out paperwork (and, according to her stories, she much be filling out paper work a lot), people always assume she’s married and question her about the single status she has checked off. The time it takes to explain this has caused her to hate her name to to beg me not to do it to my children.

    Never mind, I never said anything about having children, but that seems to be another assumption.

  24. Hi EA,
    I can imagine the hyphen is a pain–I wonder how often it just becomes the husband’s name after a while.

    And yes, the children assumption. I’ve blogged about that, too;-)

  25. I kept my name *and* passed it on to my kid (and will to future kids, if there are any). My husband and I come from pretty middle-of-the-road families, with a mix of conservatives and liberals, but no one has given us a hard time. I hadn’t thought much about how lucky that makes us until I read this post and the comments.

  26. Yes, Megan, you are sort of lucky, but still brave considering how FEW women (and many of them academics) are brave enough still to keep their names!

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