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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