World

A Tradition Going Strong: Brides Who Take Their Husbands’ Name

When Irene Evran, formerly Irene Yuan, married Colin Evran three years ago — in a civil ceremony on Zoom during the depths of the pandemic — the decision to take his name felt like a natural one.

Her mother had kept her maiden name, as is traditional in China, where they are from. But Ms. Evran thought it would be easier to share a name with her husband and their future children. It was important to him, she said, and she liked how his name sounded with hers.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” said Ms. Evran, 35, of San Francisco. “There may be deep-rooted traditional influence, but it felt pretty simple and straightforward.”

The bridal tradition of taking a husband’s last name remains strong. Among women in opposite-sex marriages in the United States, four in five changed their names, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

Fourteen percent kept their last names, the survey found. The youngest women were most likely to have done so: A quarter of respondents who were 18 to 34 kept their names.

Hyphenated last names were less common — about 5 percent of couples across age groups took that approach — and less than 1 percent said they did something different, like creating a new last name.

Marital naming has become yet another way in which Americans’ lives diverge along lines of politics and education. Among conservative Republican women, 90 percent took their husbands’ name, compared with 66 percent of liberal Democrats, Pew found. Eighty-three percent of women without a college degree changed their names, while 68 percent of those with a postgraduate degree did.

The women who keep their names are likely to be older when they marry, research shows, and to have established careers and high incomes. They have invested in “making their name” professionally, said Claudia Goldin, an economist studying gender at Harvard who co-wrote a paper with that title with Maria Shim.

As Taylor Swift sang about an ex-boyfriend on “Midnight Rain”: “He wanted a bride, I was making my own name.” Even so, Jennifer Lopez represented a much more common experience when she became Mrs. Affleck last year, long after she had made her own name.

People are marrying later than in previous generations, and highly educated people are more likely to marry. That would suggest that more women would be keeping their names, said Sharon Sassler, a sociologist at Cornell who studies young people’s transitions into adulthood.

“However, we adjust to the gender norms of our time, which, ‘Barbie’ notwithstanding, is not a very pro-feminist time period,” she said.

Also, she said, weddings are a time of highly gendered traditions: “I don’t think a lot of women want to talk about, ‘How is marriage a patriarchal institution?’ especially as they’re making the decision to enter into marriage.”

Some younger women say the decision has become more practical than political — they find it easier to have the same name as their future children, and to simplify dinner reservations or utility bills.

Immigrants to the United States and Black and Hispanic women are least likely to take a spouse’s name. Eighty-six percent of white women did, Pew found, compared with 73 percent of Black women and 60 percent of Hispanic women. There were not enough Asian American women in the sample to analyze.

When Olivia Castor, 28, a corporate lawyer in Chicago, married three weeks ago, she decided to take both routes. She is in the process of legally changing her last name to that of her husband, Austin McNair, but she will continue to use Castor professionally.

Austin McNair and Olivia Castor at their August wedding in Chicago. She is changing her name to his, but will continue to use Castor professionally.Credit…Candace Sims Photography
Her parents, Aliette and Osner Castor, at their 1990 wedding, after they immigrated from Haiti. She took his name, as is traditional in both Haiti and the United States.Credit…via Olivia Castor

She is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, and wanted to keep her Haitian last name and honor her family’s role in her education and career success.

“It meant a lot to me to have that family name, a legacy of accomplishment in the U.S., and I didn’t want to let go of that,” she said. “But I also wanted to embrace the new life and family I’m starting with my husband.”

Pew’s findings, from a poll of 2,740 married people, conducted in April, are consistent with other data showing that roughly 20 percent of women have kept their names since the practice took hold in the 1970s. But it’s hard to know how it’s changed over time because there has been so little research on it. (It’s seen as a “women’s issue,” and thus “not seen as valuable by people who fund research,” said Laurie Scheuble, a professor emeritus at Penn State who co-wrote a paper on name changing in 2012.)

Pew’s survey did not include enough same-sex couples to draw conclusions. Some said that because of the lack of a tradition, same-sex couples felt freer in their choice.

For Rosemary and Christena Kalonaros-Pyle — who work in marketing in New York and celebrated their July marriage with 115 family members and friends in Mexico — the solution was to hyphenate.

“We wanted to both have the same last name as our children would have, just because legally it’s a lot more prudent, especially as a same-sex couple, where in certain states and certain countries things are recognized differently,” Rosemary Kalonaros-Pyle said.

They also wanted to keep her Greek last name — and honor the last name of Christena Kalonaros-Pyle’s father, who died before her wife could meet him.

“It was a little bit of legal logistics,” she said, “and a little bit of emotions.”

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