marriageThe Australian state of Victoria is not as staid as it sounds but there are some things they do the old-fashioned way. A study of surnames (yes, you can get funding for that in the state’s institutes of higher learning) shows that when couples marry more than half of the wives take their husband’s name, The Age reports.

That may not sound like a great triumph for tradition, but the research was conducted among a sample of highly educated people and since overseas research indicates they are less likely to change their names, it’s assumed that the percentage would be even higher among the general population. Sociology lecturer Deborah Dempsey reckons the figure would be closer to that of Norway and the United States, where between 80 and 95 per cent of women take their husband’s name.

(Norway is a bit of a surprise, isn’t it? One expects the Scandinavians to be rather avant-garde about things like that.)

The study also found that men rarely change their surname after marriage (about 3 per cent), and indicated that around 90 per cent of Victorian children have their father’s surname, including those whose mother has kept her own name.

Only 3 per cent of children with a named father have their mother’s surname. Dr Dempsey notes that:

”There is still a really strong convention of children taking their father’s surnames. … When couples have different surnames there is some degree of discussion and negotiation about that, but they tend to resolve it in favour of using the father’s surname, and this, to me, is one of the most interesting aspects of the findings so far.”

I have a feeling that “interesting” here means “a little disappointing”, a sign that the woman has buckled to patriarchal power.

On that subject, as one of the comments (191 people sounded off, indicating a lot of interest) on the article pointed out, when a woman keeps her maiden name she is really not striking much of a blow against the patriarchy since it’s most likely to be her father’s name – and his forefathers’… Still, it has been her name since birth and there may be very good reasons (professional, for example) for keeping it after marriage.

What is nice about the traditional practice is the sign of unity between the couple. It is also, I suppose, a sign of the husband’s heavier responsibility for the family, and an encouragement for him to carry it in these days when so many dads seem to default on their role.

Any further thoughts on this?

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet