With the summer season well under way, I’ve had the joy of celebrating with friends as they embark on married life together. Since I am looking forward as well to my own wedding a question that has inevitably come up is, “Will you take your husband’s last name?”
A recent study by social psychologists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands suggests that this is not a good idea. The study finds that women who took their husband’s last names are judged as more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, less competent and less ambitious than those women who kept their own name.
“Finally, a job applicant who took her partner’s name, in comparison with one with her own name, was less likely to be hired for a job and her monthly salary was estimated €861,21 lower (calculated to a working life, €361.708,20).”
Women may choose to hold onto their maiden names for many reasons, including family history, cultural heritage, sense of identity and professional continuity. One popular option is for women to hold onto their maiden names as their “professional” name and legally adopt their husband’s name for official documents. For example, American Idol’s Carrie Underwood, who recently wed Ottawa Senator Mike Fisher, will be taking her husband’s name legally but keeping her maiden name as her stage name.
But does that mean that those who choose to take their husbands’ names are making a poor career choice, as the study suggests?
Interestingly enough, the study also cites previous research that shows employment decisions are influenced by implicit discrimination; for example, a person with an African-American sounding name is less likely to get a call back for a job interview than a person with a Caucasian sounding name. I find it hard to believe that the recommendation of such research would be for the African-American to change his/her name to something Caucasian. Isn’t hiring (or not hiring) someone based on their ethnic background, martial status or choice in taking their husband’s name discrimination nonetheless? Yet the researchers seem to put the onus of change on married women, rather than on those who discriminate against them:
“If women knew how they would be judged, would they still change their name? Suppose the differences in salary became reality?… Calculated to a working life: 361.708,20 euros. That is more than a million ice creams, a large family home in the middle of the Netherlands, or four luxury BMW’s.”
When I get married next May, I’ve decided that I will be taking the last name of my husband-to-be. I’ve made this choice because it publicly signifies the unity of our marriage and the new family that we are forming together. I like the idea that we will become the “Leungs” and not “Li and Leung” because marriage is about joining our lives together permanently to become a “we”, not “you and I”.
People deserve to make this personal choice free from stigma, discrimination and societal pressure to conform.
Peggy Li writes from Toronto, Canada.