Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The name's the thing

A question:  Will the rise of social media mean fewer women change their names on marriage?

Finding people on Facebook relies largely on knowing their name, or recognising it in someone else's friend list.  And usernames for Twitter are often based on a person's name.  In some social media cases you can't even change the username at all after you've set up your account.  Your username, and thus your real life name if they're related, becomes a marker of your presence and a trace of your wise (or not) thoughts. 

Not changing your name when you marry* has been stereotyped as the preserve of the professional middle class woman, who is possibly motivated by feminism, but more likely seeking to continue her "brand" in her chosen career.  I suspect there are in fact quite a few cultures where keeping your name is more common than changing it, but in Aotearoa New Zealand I still get called Mrs more often than Ms. 

Your thoughts, dear readers? 

*  Does anyone know if there's any data yet on name changes with civil unions?


Boganette said...

Five of my Facebook friends/family have married in the last year. They all changed their name to their husband's. And they changed it on FB so it can't be that hard.

I don't have any family or friends who didn't change their last name to their husband's when they got married.

When I got engaged the first two txt messages I got said "Congratulations Mrs His-Name".

Sandra said...

I'm surprised so many women still do change their names. Not that they shouldn't change their names if that is what they want, but I thought the practice would die out apart from in conservative religious circles.

So I don't see social media as making a difference when changing society more broadly has made only the impact it has made.

Lucy said...

I had a conversation with a couple of fellow science graduate students a year or so ago where I had to point out to them that it was a bad idea - considering how much your publication record matters for getting a job in research - to change your name half-way through. That's not the reason *I* didn't change it, but it's pretty pertinent. Yet it hadn't occured to them.

Now if we could just get that message through to all the extended family members who attened our rather non-traditional wedding and still wrote Christmas cards to Mr. and Mrs. HisName HisLastName...

katy said...

When you change your name you don't necessarily renounce your previous name; it just means your legal name, ie, what is on your passport might be different and in some situations this is useful. I know some female academics use the name they started publishing in even if their legal name changes and i also have friends who use their partner's name even though they haven't legally switched to it. Mine and my husband's names were too unwieldy to hyphenate but I still have lots of old friends who use the name they originally knew me as. I understand that some people think that changing your legal surname is a big deal but I never felt that because changing it back is just a piece of paper away. Anyway, I have an academic paper somewhere about naming practices in this situation, from what I recall there are some places where you can't change your name after marriage (China?).

katy said...

BTW the name I use in my current job is different to the one I used in my last job, which was different again from the name I used before that and when I was a student. It means that someone has to know me quite well to find traces of me on the internet from different parts of my life. I particularly liked in my last job that when I googled my work name it didn't connect at all to other things related to me on the internet.

Moz said...

I already have that "problem" anyway, and have done since before I was at uni. Moz is related to but not the same as my passport name. My friends are mostly well used to that. As are my parents, for that matter.

One advantage is the opportunity to separate work and home identities, and I'm surprised more people don't take that option.

Is it still the case that getting married provides a free name change for women, but not for men? I vaguely recall that that was the case some time ago.

Hugh said...

Katy, if you ever do dig out a link to that paper I would be hugely interested in it.

Hugh said...

Moz, I can confirm that both men and women are able to freely change their name to their partner's when they get married or undertake a civil union.

Danni said...

I think the now ubiquity of individual user logins and email addresses (particularly at work) will have the biggest effect.

Within many corporations it seems extremely difficult (if not impossible) to get your username changed, and has the potential for annoying knock-on effects such as losing access to documents, old-email, and frequently not being able to set up a redirect from your old address to your new one. It quickly becomes all too hard, so you continue using your old name even if you'd decided to use your partner's.

Similarly, changing your personal email address makes it hard for friends and family to contact you. Lots of websites are tied to your email address. Again, redirects aren't easy, and it's even harder on webmail to move over your old email and address book. Some people don't even think to change the From field on their email to reflect their new chosen name.

It quickly becomes too hard, so your online existence continues under your old name, and so no matter your personal choice, people will continue to think of you under your old name. Perhaps then, the idea of changing your name to that of your partners will become less and less normal.

Flynn the Cat said...

My parents kept their name separate when I was born, but after a year, my mother got sick of explaining that yes, she WAS married.

So they took both names (but didn't hyphenate, which confuses the hell out of everyone :D )

Anonymous said...

Hugh - I was rather keen on changing my surname to my wife's when we got married. But never really got around to it, and wifey wasn't all that keen on me doing it.

She definitely didn't want to change her name, which was fine with me. I have said this before - I fell in love with the Divine Ms K, I have no idea who Mrs GoodGravey is.

And as others have said, if anything, social media probably makes it easier to change names, or at least provides greater scope for name changing - as our "names" in social media don't necessarily have any bearing on our "real" names.

Giarne said...

I just wrote a long-ish reply which wouldn't post so I'll try to shorten it ... sigh.

-I changed my name
-Hate hyphenating
-Thought it easier
-Wanted it as a middle name but would have had to pay for a name change
-Thought facebook was really adaptable, they put brackets around your maiden name so you can still come up in searches
-Had no issues transfering emails at work to new name email

Certainly don't see it as seeding my belief system to have done this - my beliefs are the same prior to marriage as now, changes may come as I change my views.

I was actually a bit annoyed that some friends questioned me changing my name - tis my choice not theirs and was a decision that hubby had no input into at all, I told him that's what I was going to do once I had made my decision.

That's the short version, imagine it wittier and with more explanation :)

homepaddock said...

A friend went home from work for an apppointment with a tradesman who didn't turn up. When she finally caught up with him he said he'd tried to phone but couldn't find her in the phone book.

She said that was because the phone was under her husband's name.

He asked why it wasn't the same as hers.

She said that was because he didn't change his name when they married.

anna caro said...

I don't use (quite) my legal name on Facebook, for reasons other than my relationship, and I've found it pretty easy. My legal name is on my page in brackets and it doesn't seem to have caused anyone much confusion (that said, I do try and introduce myself when friending people if appropriate). When you change your name or use two names, social networking sites are just one of many systems you need to deal with and they can be designed to be more or less accommodating.

I've seen interesting things happen with people (I'm thinking particularly writers) who start off using a user name that bears no relation to their real name - or indeed any name at all, so unlike keeping a maiden name on marriage they do have to make the shift.

Despite having heard some very disturbing stories in some areas, I'm optimistic that social media is actually making name changes easier, and whilst I don't particularly understand people doing it on marriage, I think it can only be a good thing to enable people to go by the identity that most fits them.

anna caro said...

@Danni With my (large) employer email addresses etc can be changed with little drama (well, if ITS is awake that day...) but the root identifier for your account is still based on the name you signed up under. That's probably not much of a big deal for most people who change their names as a result of marriage, but it may well be for trans people, those leaving a bad relationship etc. AFAICS, all that needs to change is accounts shouldn't be labelled by names - the technology's there, it's just a question of the will.

Anonymous said...

Hi Katy,

Chinese is one culture where women don't usually change their name after marriage, I can't speak for China itself, but in Taiwan I saw a bit of a mix. Chinese family names are mostly only one character but I did see the equivalent of hyphenated i.e.: two character surnames where the woman used both her and her husband's family names. Most of the married women I knew there hadn't changed their names, and there seemed to little 'confusion' when mothers had different family names to their children - who seemed to take the father's family name mostly. There is ample precedent though in Chinese culture for men to take their wife's family name when the wife is an only child. Perhaps someone more knowledgable than I will come along with more details.

Hugh said...

Interestingly, if you marry somebody, there is nothing you can do to stop them from taking your surname if they want to. This applies even after a separation or even a divorce. So there is, legally, no such thing as giving "permission" for somebody to take your name on marriage (or civil union).

katy said...

Hugh, here is an abstract of the article I mentioned. I have a hard copy which the writer gave to me, it is tucked away at home somewhere but I will try and remember to look for it. If you have access to a university library you might be able to get it online. The writer is a socio-linguist (with an interest in racist social/cultural practices) so that is the perspective he is coming from:

"A review of global practice regarding post-marriage naming reveals no uniformity but rather variation. At the same time, there appears to be many possible reasons why an individual decides to change or not to change."

John, thanks for that :)

Hugh said...

Thanks Katy

Anonymous said...

I lived in Canada (Quebec and Ontario) a few years ago, and they had some issues in Quebec about wanting women NOT to change their names for marriage. I heard at the time that the non-official reason was that there were a limited number of traditional (that is, deriving from the original French settlers - not the people that were already there) names and the powers that be were worried about the name-pool becoming even smaller..

Here is an article that appeared at the time (NB the National Post is one of the more right-wing papers, and not inclined to be sympathetic to Quebec's particular issues)

Jane E

Lenore said...

What I find interesting is that when people in relationships keep their own names, their children still mainly take the father's name unless they hyphenate it. I have only met a couple of people who are in relationships and the kids have the mum's name. My view is that it is logical for our children to take their mother's name but we have had funny comments about it for years, even now. Comments like you take the dad's name otherwise they won't feel like it is their kid have been common. Sorry a bit off topic but I look forward to the day when people can feel flexible about what surname they use for their children without getting the dicky comments, let alone our own names

Hugh said...


How is it more "logical" for children to take their mother's name than their father's? I mean, obviously it worked for you and your partner but you're implying that it's more than just your personal preference. Why is that?

Kerry said...

I must admit I am surprised these days that women do change their names. I certainly wouldn't.

When my husband and I parted I took back my own name. It was good.

AnneE said...

The custom of changing your name to your husband's is a relic of the old law of "coverture" - a woman's legal identity disappeared completely into her husband's when she married, so that Jenny Jones became the legally powerless Mrs John Smith and was effectively her husband's property. I changed my name the first time but not the second - by then there was no way I was going to either fall into line again with patriarchal history, or mess up my bibliography. We just had two phone listings. I like Iceland, where daughters take their mother's surname and boys take their father's. You can have the other parent's surname as the middle name (as American women often do) - much less clumsy than hyphenation!

Octavia said...

The Mr and I chose our surname. It bears no relation to either of our previous surnames, we just liked it.