What Kind of Man Takes His Wife's Last Name?


A new study looks at men’s nontraditional surname choices in heterosexual marriage and—in the words of ScienceDaily—asks, “What kind of guy would take his wife’s last name?” I don’t know, a guy who glances at the calendar on the wall and realizes that it’s 20FUCKING18 ALREADY AND WHY ARE WE STILL DOING THIS DUMB MRS. SHIT?

Sorry, deep breath. My own barely suppressible feelings on the topic aside, researchers actually discovered some deeply fascinating class-based implications. The study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, found that “a man’s level of education—both his own and relative to his wife’s—influences the likelihood that he chooses a nontraditional surname in marriage,” as ScienceDaily reports.

Researchers from Portland State University analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of 877 heterosexual men around their marital surname choices. Only 3 percent—a grand total of 27 dudes—changed their name. It is such a rare phenomenon that the paper refers to it as a “micropractice.” ScienceDaily reports:

Of those [who changed their surname], 25 dropped their last name to take their wife’s and two hyphenated their last name. Among the 97 percent who kept their name, 87 percent said their wife took their last name, 4 percent said their wife hyphenated her surname while they made no change, and 6 percent said that neither changed their name. No respondents reported creating a new last name.

Name changes were more likely among less educated men. Researchers found name changes among 10.3 percent of men with less than a high school degree, 3.6 percent of men with a high school degree, and 2 percent of men with any college experience.

Not a single man with an advanced degree changed his name. The study explains, “Despite being more egalitarian in attitudes, men with more education are more likely to have careers that give them privileged status in their marriages and may have ‘more to lose’ in their career by changing their name.” (The same has been shown to be true among higher educated women, who are more likely to keep their last name in marriage—with researchers similarly theorizing that they have more to lose by changing their name.)

This all seems to fly in the face of past research showing that lower educated men are more likely to judge women for not taking their husband’s last name, and are more likely to hold traditional, as opposed to egalitarian, beliefs. But, as the current study puts it, “they have arguably less to ‘lose’ by changing their name”—and prior studies have shown that lower educated men might actually enact more egalitarian roles at home, despite expressing more traditional beliefs. (The current paper describes the latter phenomenon as part of a performance for “other men in the hierarchy of masculinities”—but thaaat’s a conversation for another day.)

When the researchers compared husbands’ and wives’ education levels, an entirely different phenomenon emerged. Men who were less educated than their wives were actually less likely to change their surnames. The researchers argue that this is a way of compensating for the reversal of the typical gender script. As the study puts it, “Men having less education in marriage may translate into having less earning power, which is gender nonnormative as men are culturally expected to be primary breadwinners in marriage.”

So, in sum, lower educated men have less to lose and higher educated men have more to lose and… why again are we asking anyone to lose anything in marriage?

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