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Hillary Rodham Versus Hillary Clinton: Consequences of Surname Choice in Marriage


In this paper I expand on the current literature regarding how women are perceived by surname choice with a vignette experiment conducted in a diverse sample (N = 1243) of the U.S. and ordered logistic regression to evaluate (1) how committed respondents think a woman is as a wife by her last name choice and (2) whether a woman’s last name choice causes individuals to hold her to different standards (a backlash effect). I describe the woman’s behavior in marriage in order to see if surname choice matters beyond information on how the woman is “performing.” In addition, I examine whether name change varies depending on the educational attainment and gender of the evaluator. While overall, last name choice appears to have little impact on how women are viewed among women and highly educated men, I find that men of low education view women who retain their surnames in marriage as less committed wives. These men also think women who retain their surnames should be held to higher standards than women with their husbands’ last names. My results follow scholarship that finds that men of lower education are more protective of overt instances of the gender hierarchy, of which surname practices are an important example.

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  1. 1.

    Perception of a woman given her last name choice is different than attitudes toward last name choice in general. We do have information on how men and women without college degrees feel about surname choice in general (Hamilton 2011).

  2. 2.

    My experiment focuses on heterosexual marriage. It was fielded in 2010 before same-sex marriage was legal nationwide.


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I thank Paula England, Shelley J. Correll, Corey D. Fields, and Elizabeth Aura McClintock for the comments on this manuscript. The data for this project were collected by TESS, Time-sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences, NSF Grant 0818839, Jeremy Freese and James Drunkman, Principal Investigators.

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Correspondence to Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer.

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“All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.”

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Shafer, E.F. Hillary Rodham Versus Hillary Clinton: Consequences of Surname Choice in Marriage. Gend. Issues 34, 316–332 (2017).

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  • Surnames
  • Married names
  • Gender
  • Last name choice