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To Change or Not to Change: How Surnames Affect Marital Relationships

married couple oncake

It is the most magical day some people grow up dreaming about. Everyone is fitted in their best outfit while waiting impatiently for hours that felt like days. Finally, the most awaited moment, the names of the couple are called upon and they answer…"Yes, Your Honor?”

Perhaps waiting in the courtroom to officially change surnames is not the most magical day of everyone’s lives nor the most enjoyable part of each newlywed’s agenda. Nonetheless, it is a topic that is hardly ignored. What are the marital benefits of a partner - in this study, specifically the wives - taking, keeping, or sharing last names with their spouse? More importantly, how much do relationship quality differ between those with different surname choices?

Exploratory research conducted by Phoebe Pham the University of California, Irvine, and Jamie Nordling at Augustana College uncovered the marital benefits and relationship quality differences of married women who either changed their last names to match that of their partner’s, kept their last name as-is, or decided to include their last names with their partner. They identified these surname choices as Takers, Keepers, and Sharers respectively.

In this particular study, the researchers limited their study to women in their first marriage. They also only included Sharer’s who adopted their partners’ surname, not those using hyphenated names.

When analyzing the results, three variables: closeness, perceived support, and marital satisfaction emerged. Closeness was defined as how close the participants felt to their partner, perceived support was how supported they felt by their partner, and marital satisfaction was how satisfied they were with their marriage. It was concluded that closeness, perceived support, and marital satisfaction significantly differed between those that shared their surnames with their partners and those that kept their surname. Additionally, the same three variables resulted in marginal differences between the Takers and the Sharers.

In examining potential trends, Sharers emerged to score highest in closeness, perceived support, and marital satisfaction while Keepers significantly scored lowest in the same three domains. To offer insight on the possible explanation for this trend, Pham suggested, “I think relationships have been changing these days and husbands and wives are sharing a more equal role in the family. So things like housework, name, or anything in the relationship are becoming equally shared, equally cared for by both partners.”

Names can be personal, and it can also play a major role in an individual’s identity. When engaged couples share thoughts about taking, keeping, or sharing their last names, there are risks and benefits to be considered. While tradition could persuade future wives to take their husband’s last name, new research offers a different perspective that might influence both spouses to recognize a non-traditional alternative.  

Written By: Katie Linh Pham, MA Candidate at Loyola Marymount University

Session: Takers, Keepers, and Sharers: The associations among marital surname choice, overlapping identity, and relationship quality

A poster presented at Poster Session A, held on Thursday, February 27th, 2020

Speaker: Phoebe T. Pham, UC Irvine Co-Author: Jamie K. Nordling, Augustana College

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