What’s in a married woman’s surname?

Friday December 22 2017

Why is it so surprising, shocking, eventful, that a man would take his wife’s surname?... Men, you will not cease to exist by taking your partner’s surname, on the contrary, you’ll be remembered as a man who stood by change. PHOTO | FILE

Why is it so surprising, shocking, eventful, that a man would take his wife’s surname?... Men, you will not cease to exist by taking your partner’s surname, on the contrary, you’ll be remembered as a man who stood by change. PHOTO | FILE 

By SIMON MBURU
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Are men who allow their wives to retain their family’s name weaker than men who demand that their wives use their surnames after marriage?

This is the question that researchers at the UNLV University have addressed in a newly released study.

In the three-part study that was conducted in United States and UK, the researchers concluded that a man whose wife retains her own surname after marriage is seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship.

HIGHER STATUS

“Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple’s gender-typed personality traits,” said Rachael Robnett, an assistant professor of psychology at UNLV, and the study’s co-author.

The study established that when it comes to surnames, a man whose wife uses his surname is given a higher status and regarded as powerful in the marriage. On the opposite extreme, a man who doesn’t mind his wife retaining her surname is thought to be controlled by his wife.

“The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men,” she said.

In the first study, the researchers surveyed US undergraduates who were asked to characterise a man whose wife retains her surname after marriage.

Husbands of such women were described as timid, submissive, caring or understanding. In the second study, the researchers asked interviewees in Southeast England to read a vignette about a fictionally engaged couple.

HOSTILE SEXISM

They were also asked to describe their thoughts on the woman’s choice for surname.

Their responses generally perceived the man as higher in expressive traits and lower in instrumental traits when the woman retained her own surname.

In the last part of the study, which included participants from the US, the researchers examined whether hostile sexism or an antagonistic attitude towards women can explain how the respondents perceived the weakness or strength of a couple based on the woman’s choice of surname.

This examination determined that participants who stuck to traditionally obvious choice of the woman abandoning her surname in favour of the man’s were more likely to be hostile sexists.

“We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles. Our findings this time showed that they also apply stereotypes to non-traditional women’s husbands,” said Ms Robnett.

The study titled Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband was published in the research magazine Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.