Within Western cultures, most women in heterosexual relationships adopt their husbands’ surnames after marriage. In attempting to explain the enduring nature of this practice, researchers have noted that women tend to encounter stereotypes when they break with tradition by retaining their own surnames after marriage. A complementary possibility is that stereotypes are also directed toward men whose wives violate the surname tradition. The current research provides initial insight into this possibility through three studies that were conducted in the United States and United Kingdom with undergraduate and community samples (total N = 355; 254 women and 101 men). Study 1 revealed that participants predominantly referenced expressive traits when describing a man whose wife retained her surname. Study 2 built on these findings with an experimental design. Relative to a man whose wife adhered to the surname tradition, a man whose wife retained her surname was rated as less instrumental, more expressive, and as holding less power in the relationship. In Study 3, participants high in hostile sexism were particularly likely to rate a man as lower in power when his wife retained her surname. Collectively, findings provide insight into attitudes that may help to explain the longevity of the marital surname tradition. Findings also join with prior research in revealing links between commonplace marriage traditions and gendered power dynamics.
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.
Abele, A. E., & Wojciszke, B. (2007). Agency and communion from the perspective of self versus others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 751–763. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1241.
Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence: Isolation and communication in western man. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
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. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.
Carli, L. L. (1999). Gender, interpersonal power, and social influence. Journal of Social Issues, 55, 81–99. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00106.
Chen, Z., Fiske, S. T., & Lee, T. L. (2009). Ambivalent sexism and power-related gender-role ideology in marriage. Sex Roles, 60, 765–778. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9585-9.
Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Las Angeles: University of California Press.
Dion, K. L., & Cota, A. A. (1991). The Ms. stereotype. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 403–410. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1991.tb00416.x.
Eastwick, P. W., Eagly, A. H., Glick, P., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., Fiske, S. T., Blum, A. M. B., … Volpato, C. (2006). Is traditional gender ideology associated with sex-typed mate preferences? A test in nine nations. Sex Roles, 54, 603–614. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9027-x.
Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. (2011). Has dating become more egalitarian? A 35 year review using Sex Roles. Sex Roles, 64, 843–862. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9957-9.
Emens, E. F. (2007). Changing name changing: Framing rules and the future of marital names. The University of Chicago Law Review, 74, 761–863.
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. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1999.tb00400.x.
Felmlee, D. H. (1994). Who’s on top? Power in romantic relationships. Sex Roles, 31, 275–295.
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.005.
Forbes, G. B., Adams-Curtis, L. E., White, K. B., & Hamm, N. R. (2002). Perceptions of married women and married men with hyphenated surnames. Sex Roles, 46, 167–175. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1019613819247.
French Jr., J. R. P., & Raven, B. H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp. 150–167). Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research.
Gaunt, R. (2013). Breadwinning moms, caregiving dads: Double standard in social judgments of gender norm violators. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X12438686.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109.
Goldin, C., & Shim, M. (2004). Making a name: Women’s surnames at marriage and beyond. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18, 143–160.
Gooding, G. E., & Kreider, R. M. (2010). Women’s martial naming choices in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Family Issues, 31, 681–701. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X09344688.
Graham, D. A. (2015, November 11). A short history of Hillary (Rodham) (Clinton)‘s changing names: How the democratic candidate’s evolving self-identification tells a story of women in American politics. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/a-short-history-of-hillary-rodham-clintons-name/418029/.
Gurtman, M. B. (2009). Exploring personality with the interpersonal circumplex. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00172.x.
Haines, E. L., Deaux, K., & Lofaro, N. (2016). The times they are a-changing…or are they not? A comparison of gender stereotypes, 1983-2014. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40, 353–363. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684316634081.
Hamilton, L., Geist, C., & Powell, B. (2011). Marital name change as a window into gender attitudes. Gender and Society, 25, 145–175. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243211398653.
Hayes, A. F., & Krippendorff, K. (2007). Answering the call for a standard reliability measure for coding data. Communication Methods and Measures, 1, 77–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/19312450709336664.
Hoffnung, M. (2006). What’s in a name? Marital name choice revisited. Sex Roles, 55, 817–825. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9133-9.
Hoffnung, M., & Williams, M. (2016). When Mr. right becomes Mr. wrong: Women’s postdivorce surname choice. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 57, 12–35. https://doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2015.1113814.
Humbad, M. N., Donnellan, M. B., Iacono, W. G., McGue, M., & Burt, S. A. (2010). Is spousal similarity for personality a matter of convergence or selection? Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 827–830. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2010.07.010.
Johnson, D. R., & Scheuble, L. K. (1995). Women’s marital naming in two generations: A national study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 57, 724–732.
Jones, L., Mills, S., Paterson, L. L., Turner, G., & Coffey-Clover, L. (2016). Identity and naming practices in British marriage and civil partnerships. Gender and Language. Advance online publication.
Kopelman, R. E., Shea-Van Fossen, R. J., Paraskevas, E., Lawter, L., & Prottas, D. J. (2009). The bride is keeping her name: A 35 year retrospective analysis of trends and correlates. Social Behaviour and Personality, 37, 687–700.
Leaper, C., & Friedman, C. K. (2007). The socialization of gender. In J. E. Grusec & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization: Theory and research (pp. 561–587). New York: Guilford Press.
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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9770-x.
Luo, S., & Klohnen, E. C. (2005). Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 304–326. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.524.
MacEacheron, M. (2016). North American women’s marital surname change: Practices, law, and patrilineal descent reckoning. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 2, 149–161. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-016-0045-9.
Mills, S. (2003). Caught between sexism, anti-sexism and ‘political correctness’: Feminist women’s negotiations with naming practices. Discourse & Society, 14, 87–100. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926503014001931.
Morgan, M. Y. (1987). The impact of religion on gender-role attitudes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11, 301–310.
Noack, T., & Wiik, K. A. (2008). Women’s choice of surname upon marriage in Norway. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 507–518.
Pilcher, J. (2017). Names and “doing gender”: How forenames and surnames contribute to gender identities, difference, and inequalities. Sex Roles. Advance online publication.
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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558412447871.
Robnett, R. D., Underwood, C. R., Nelson, P. A., & Anderson, K. J. (2016). “She might be afraid of commitment”: Perceptions of women who retain their surname after marriage. Sex Roles, 75, 500–513. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0634-x.
Rudman, L. A., & Fairchild, K. (2004). Reactions to counter stereotypic behavior: The role of backlash in cultural stereotype maintenance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 157–176. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.206.
Rudman, L. A., & Mescher, K. (2013). Penalizing men who request a family leave: Is flexibility stigma a femininity stigma? Journal of Social Issues, 69, 322–340.
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. https://doi.org/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. https://doi.org/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.
Shafer, E. F. (2017). Hillary Rodham versus Hillary Clinton: Consequences of surname choice in marriage. Gender Issues, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-016-9182-5.
Sibley, C. G., & Duckitt, J. (2007). Personality and prejudice: A meta-analysis and theoretical review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 248–279. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868308319226.
Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1978). Masculinity and femininity: Their psychological dimensions, correlates, and antecedents. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R., & Stapp, J. (1975). Ratings of self and peers on sex role attributes and their relation to self-esteem and conception of masculinity and femininity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 29–39.
Thwaites, R. (2013). The making of selfhood: Naming decisions on marriage. Families, Relationships, and Societies, 2, 425–439. https://doi.org/10.1332/204674313X665913.
Vaidyanathan, R. (2015, June 11). A new wedding trend? The men taking their wives’ names. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33085652.
Valetas, M. F. (2001). The surname of married women in the European Union. Population and. Societies, 367, 1–4.
Way, N. (2011). Deep secrets: Boys’ friendships and the crisis of connection. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
We thank Paul Nelson for providing feedback on an earlier version of the present paper. We are grateful to Janice Yoder and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions during the review process. Desiree Melton provided assistance with coding.
This research was carried out at two institutions. The internal review boards at both institutions approved the study. All aspects of manuscript preparation aligned with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association. My co-authors and I verify that this research is not under-review or published elsewhere.
About this article
Cite this article
Robnett, R.D., Wertheimer, M. & Tenenbaum, H.R. Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband? An Analysis Focusing on Gender-Typed Traits and Relationship Power Dynamics. Sex Roles 79, 59–71 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0856-6
- Marriage attitudes
- Sex roles