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Keep Your Maiden Name To Be Successful?

When/if you get married*, do you plan to take your husband’s last name? I bet you’ve thought about it at least once … For some women, it’s about tradition and the idea of becoming bound as one with your spouse. For others, taking on your husband’s name feels like giving up much more than your personalized tote bags. What if you learned that the decision to keep or change your name post-nuptials had a real effect on your income potential? Would that affect your decision?

A 2009 study conducted by the American Sociological Association revealed that about 70% of Americans believed women should take their husband’s last names when they get married and half of the respondents thought it should be a legal requirement. However, a more recent study indicates that women who kept their maiden names were perceived to be more “independent, intelligent, ambitious and competent” than their married-name or hyphenated-name counterparts. In fact, when study participants had to give a hypothetical salary amount to one versus the other, maiden-named women were valued at about $1,172.36 more per month. Over a lifetime, that adds up to more than $500,000, as reported by the women’s financial site LearnVest.

Of course this outcome presents us with a “chicken or egg”-type of question. Are these women perceived as ambitious and competent because they kept their maiden names or do women who keep their maiden names already possess those qualities? While the study’s limitations behoove us to take its findings with a grain of salt, even the most basic anecdotal analysis will show that a common characteristic of the women who hold on to their own names is that they are extremely motivated and, if they haven’t already accomplished a significant measure of success in their lives, they certainly plan on doing so.

In a society in which reputation is becoming an increasingly valuable form of capital and one’s name is an asset, it makes sense that women would want to hold on to what they’ve built – continuing to invest in their personal brand. According to self-styled king of personal branding, Dan Schwabel, “your personal brand is everything. It’s your reputation, the size and strength of your network, and what unique value you can contribute to a company or your clients.” The benefits derived from investing in and protecting your personal brand includes the ability to demand a higher salary and to increase both visibility and recognition among other successful people. It’s no surprise, then, that many celebrities, elected officials, authors, and other high-profile women have chosen to stick with their maiden names after marriage.

Whether taking my future hubby’s name or not has an effect on future earning potential, I personally don’t see any benefit to doing so. I like my last name and I think it sounds good with my given and middle names. I even like where it falls in the alphabet, never coming in too soon or too late when alphabetical order is the standard. I doubt that changing my name will make me a better wife and mother. I don’t think that it will bring me and my husband closer together or promise us a supportive partnership complete with mutual respect, amazing sex, and life-long companionship. So what’s the point?

*I want to be sure to acknowledge the fact that I’m speaking of husbands and wives from a hetero-normative perspective and that I do so because (1) the studies referenced focused on heterosexual marriages and (2) the conversation around name change for same-sex couples is, in some ways, distinct from this one.

Last 5 posts by Nakia D. Hansen

  • I’m glad that you referenced personal branding in this post, because as I always say, YOU are your brand. I grew up wanting to get married ONLY so that I could change my last name (before I knew that you didn’t have to get married to do so.) I could care less about the perfect wedding day, or even the perfect guy, I just wanted a different last name. Now, however, my name is everything. Ms. Rasberry IS my brand, so not only does it focus on my last name but also on my current unmarried state, and I’m fine with it. This is what I have built and on the off chance that I ever get married, Ms. Rasberry is who I will always be. I could see myself changing my name legally but maintaining my professional name though. The celebs do it, why can’t I?

  • I am with the author, I really like my government name. I get compliments on it all the time and it’s really hard to mess up. haha. On the flip side, in Europe it’s more common for men and women to exchange names. My boyfriend is divorced and when he got married he took his ex-wife’s name. When they divorced he ended up keeping her name because he had his personal brand, he was a published author under his married name and thought it would do more damage to change it back. They also have 2 children who have the hybrid name, he also wanted to have the same name as his two boys. Name changing is complicated.  Man, I’ll stick with the name my momma gave me. 

  • Anonymous

    I already have a hyphenated last name, because my mother kept her last name when she and my father got married. This was in 1972, and I think it’s great that she did it, and I’m very proud of her and my last name. However, I can’t wait to get rid of it. It’s been a logistical nightmare for everything from doctor’s visits to school records to government IDs. It shouldn’t be so confusing to people, but for some reason, it is.

    When people advocate both parties keeping their own last names, I just have to question at what point it stops. If I felt really strongly about keeping my own last name, would my kids then have three last names? There are practical issues to consider, and I’ve never figured out the best way to handle it.

  • I think in our culture, it’s definitely easier for kids to take on the father’s last name. Personally, I have the last name of my mother and her family and while at first it wasn’t easy to understand, I also wasn’t an anomaly – many kids in my neighborhood lived in single-parent homes.
    I like the option of giving your kid your maiden name as a middle name. A number of people forgo the cute second first name and use a family name instead.
    Either way, I am aware of the possible stigma a kid and parent can face not having that very obvious tie to their father, if in name only.
    It’s easier to draw a line if you’re keeping your own name for professional and identity reasons. Unless you’re super famous, I think there’s room for your kids to create their own identity out of whatever name they’re given. I’ve rambled, but you feel me?

  • I am keeping my name as well. My first name and last name go well together already, and, as I am working on building my personal brand and building name recognition, it makes more sense to keep the name that I, and others, have always known.