The tradition of the wife adopting her husband’s surname continues to be widely endorsed within the U.S. and many other nations. The current research focuses on perceptions of heterosexual women who violate this tradition. Specifically, we examined how women who retain their surname are evaluated with respect to their marriage commitment and personality attributes. We also tested for sources of individual variation in these evaluations. Three studies were carried out with a total of 1201 undergraduates (912 women and 289 men) at two U.S. universities. Participants in Study 1 rated a woman who retained her surname as lower in marriage commitment than a woman who adopted her husband’s surname. They also allocated her a high proportion of agentic traits. Studies 2 and 3 demonstrated that both women and men high in social dominance orientation (SDO) were especially likely to rate a woman who retained her surname as lower in marriage commitment. Collectively, findings indicate that women who violate the marital surname tradition may encounter negative stereotypes about their marriage commitment and that these stereotypes may be particularly likely to originate from people with a preference for group-based inequality. Implications center on links between marriage traditions and broader patterns of gender inequality.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Anderson, K. J. (2015). Modern misogyny: Anti-feminism in a post-feminist era. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence: Isolation and communication in Western man. Boston: Beacon.
Booth, A., & Johnson, D. (1988). Premarital cohabitation and marital success. Journal of Family Issues, 9, 255–272.
Boxer, D., & Gritsenko, E. (2005). Women and surnames across cultures: Reconstituting identity in marriage. Women and Language, 28, 1–11.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.
Chen, Z., Fiske, S. T., & Lee, T. L. (2009). Ambivalent sexism and power-related gender-role ideology in marriage. Sex Roles, 60, 765–778. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9585-9.
Christopher, A. N., & Wojda, M. R. (2008). Social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, sexism, and prejudice toward women in the workforce. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 65–73. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00407.x.
Clarke, V., Burns, M., & Burgoyne, C. (2008). Who would take whose name? accounts of naming practices in same-sex relationships. Journal of Community & Applied Psychology, 18, 420–439. doi:10.1002/casp.936.
Dion, K. L., & Cota, A. A. (1991). The Ms. stereotype: Its domain and the role of explicitness in title preference. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 403–410. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1991.tb00416.x.
Eagly, A. H., & Steffen, V. J. (1984). Gender stereotypes stem from the distribution of women and men into social roles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 735–754. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1245.
Etaugh, C. E., Bridges, J. S., Cummings-Hill, M., & Cohen, J. (1999). “Names can never hurt me?” The effects of surname use on perceptions of married women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 819–823. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1999.tb00400.x.
Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., & Glick, P. (2006). Universal dimensions of social cognition: Warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11, 77–83. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.005.
Goldin, C., & Shim, M. (2004). Making a name: Women’s surnames at marriage and beyond. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18, 143–160. doi:10.1257/0895330041371268.
Gooding, G. E., & Kreider, R. M. (2010). Women’s marital naming choices in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 618–701. doi:10.1177/0192513X09344688.
Gurtman, M. B. (2009). Exploring personality with the interpersonal circumplex. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1–19. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00172.x.
Hamilton, L., Geist, C., & Powell, B. (2011). Marital name change as a window into gender attitudes. Gender & Society, 25, 145–175. doi:10.1177/0891243211398653.
Heaven, P. C. L. (1999). Attitudes toward women’s rights: Relationships with social dominance orientation and political group identities. Sex Roles, 41, 605–614. doi:10.1177/1368430204039975.
Helgeson, V. S., & Fritz, H. L. (1999). Unmitigated agency and unmitigated communion: Distinctions from agency and communion. Journal of Research in Personality, 33, 131–158.
Hoffnung, M. (2006). What’s in a name? marital name choice revisited. Sex Roles, 55, 817–825. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9133-9.
Holman, T. B. (2002). Premarital predictors of marital quality or breakup: Research, theory, and practice. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Jackson, L. M., & Esses, V. M. (2000). Effects of perceived economic competition on people’s willingness to help empower immigrants. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 3, 419–435. doi:10.1177/1368430200003004006.
Johnson, D. R., & Scheuble, L. K. (1995). Women’s marital naming in two generations: A national study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 724–732. doi:10.1177/1368430200003004006.
Kane, E. (2000). Racial and ethnic variations in gender-related attitudes. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 419–439. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.419.
Kline, R. B. (2005). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York: The Guilford Press.
Larson, J. H., & Holman, T. B. (1994). Premarital predictors of marital quality and stability. Family Relations, 43, 228–237. doi:10.2307/585327.
Lee, T. L., Fiske, S. T., Glick, P., & Chen, Z. (2010). Ambivalent sexism in close relationships: (Hostile) power and (benevolent) romance shape relationship ideals. Sex Roles, 62, 583–601. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9770-x.
Morgan, M. Y. (1987). The impact of religion on gender-role attitudes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 301–310. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1987.tb00905.x.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2013). Mplus user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Authors.
Pew Research Center. (2010). The decline of marriage and the rise of new families. Washington, DC: Author.
Pratto, F., & Walker, A. (2004). The bases of gendered power. In A. H. Eagly, A. E. Beall, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The psychology of gender (pp. 242–268). New York: Guilford.
Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741–763. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991.
Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., & Levin, M. (2006). Social dominance theory and the dynamics of intergroup relations: Taking stock and looking forward. European Review of Social Psychology, 17, 271–320. doi:10.1080/10463280601055772.
Robnett, R. D., & Leaper, C. (2013). “Girls don’t propose!” Ew”.: A mixed-methods examination of marriage tradition preferences and benevolent sexism in emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 28, 96–121. doi:10.1177/0743558412447871.
Rosenthal, L., Levy, S. R., & Earnshaw, V. A. (2012). Social dominance orientation relates to believing men should dominate sexually, sexual self-efficacy, and taking free female condoms among undergraduate women and men. Sex Roles, 67, 659–669. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0207-6.
Rudman, L. A., & Fairchild, K. (2007). The F word: Is feminism incompatible with beauty and romance? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 125–136. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00346.x.
Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 743–762. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00239.
Rudman, L. A., & Heppen, J. B. (2003). Implicit romantic fantasies and women’s interest in personal power: A glass slipper effect? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1357–1370. doi:10.1177/0146167203256906.
Rudman, L. A., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 165–179. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.10.008.
Sassler, S., & Miller, A. J. (2011). Waiting to be asked: Gender, power, and relationship progression among cohabitating couples. Journal of Family Issues, 32, 482–506. doi:10.1177/0192513X10391045.
Scheuble, L. K., Johnson, D. R., & Johnson, K. M. (2012). Marital name changing attitudes and plans of college students: Comparing change over time and across regions. Sex Roles, 66, 282–292. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0089-z.
Schweingruber, D., Anahita, S., & Berns, N. (2004). “Popping the question” when the answer is known: The engagement proposal as performance. Sociological Focus, 37, 143–161. doi:10.1080/00380237.2004.10571239.
Schweingruber, D., Cast, A. D., & Anahita, S. (2008). “A story and a ring”: Audience judgments about marriage proposals. Sex Roles, 58, 165–178. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9330-1.
Sibley, C. G., Wilson, M. S., & Duckitt, J. (2007). Antecedents of men’s hostile and benevolent sexism: The dual roles of social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 160–172. doi:10.1177/0146167206294745.
Sidanius, J., Levin, S., Liu, J., & Pratto, F. (2000). Social dominance orientation, anti-egalitarianism and the political psychology of gender: An extension and cross-cultural replication. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 41–67. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(200001/02)30:1<41::AID-EJSP976>3.0.CO;2-O.
Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22, 1359–1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632.
Sussenbach, P., & Bohner, G. (2011). Acceptance of sexual aggression myths in a representative sample of German residents. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 374–385. doi:10.1002/ab.20390.
Twenge, J. M. (1997). “Mrs. His Name”: Women’s preferences for married names. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 417–429. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00122.x.
We thank Ashley Lee and the UNLV Psychology Writing Workshop for their help and feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. We are also grateful to Janice Yoder and three anonymous reviews for their feedback during the review process. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2016 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
The current research complied with ethnic standards in participant recruitment, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. The institutional review board at both universities approved the study.
About this article
Cite this article
Robnett, R.D., Underwood, C.R., Nelson, P.A. et al. “She Might be Afraid of Commitment”: Perceptions of Women Who Retain Their Surname After Marriage. Sex Roles 75, 500–513 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0634-x
- Gender roles
- Human courtship