Daily Archives: September 2, 2009

Women’s Names, Traditions, and Statistics Oh My!

I think this will be just a general “What in the world are we saying?” blog. Yesterday I wrote about keeping my name upon marriage.  In previewing it before publishing, I went back to one of my links…the one that said “70% of Americans think women should take their husband’s name upon marriage” and 50% said there should be a law requiring it.

It turned out that there were at least fifteen other sites I counted that quoted that same message. I stopped counting and returned to my blog. Supposedly it was a “national” study out of Indiana University’s sociology department that claimed that :

About 70% of Americans agree, either somewhat or strongly, that it’s beneficial for women to take her husband’s last name when they marry, while 29% say it’s better for women to keep their own names, finds a study being presented today at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco. Researchers from Indiana University and the University of Utah asked about 815 people a combination of multiple choice and open-ended questions to come up with the findings. Laura Hamilton, a sociology researcher at Indiana University and one of the study authors, says that while gender-neutral terms such as “chairperson” have become commonplace, the same logic hasn’t carried over to name change.

Now I somehow managed to get my master’s degree without having to take statistics so I don’t always “get” what statistics say. However, isn’t 70% of 815 people 570 people?  Would the news headlines in USA TODAY and Glamour magazine have had the same impact if the banner read 570 Americans agree brides….”  I don’t THINK so!  At what point does 570 Americans translate into 70% of Americans? At what point do statistics like that become significant?  Look at this comparison study:

In 2008, Gallup interviewed more than 350,000 U.S. adults as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. That includes interviews with 1,000 or more residents of every U.S. state except Wyoming (885) and North Dakota (953), as well as the District of Columbia (689). There were more than 15,000 interviews conducted with residents of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida.

This large data set provides the unique ability to give reliable estimates of state-level characteristics for 2008. Each sample of state residents was weighted by demographic characteristics to ensure it is representative of the state’s population.

Wouldn’t you tend to believe 70% of those polled would represent the thoughts of Americans over 570 people representing 70%?

Now supposedly, these report findings included additional studies which agreed with the researcher’s findings. Would their findings be any more valid?

I do not wish to get into religious discussion here, but I would surely like to know the background of those 570 people. I think a full disclosure would only be fair. 

According to internet information I could find on Utah and Indiana, Utah is 67% Mormon. The closeness of the family is of fundamental importance to that group. 

The “fundamentalist” Mormons still teach that women are dependent upon their husbands to get into heaven.

If a woman can’t get into heaven without her husband, she’d better be wearing his name. Isn’t that what you could conclude?

As far as Indiana goes, 32.6% of the Indiana faithful are Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Pentacostal. Another 18.7% are Roman Catholic.  Both of those groups are also very conservative in their views of authority within a marriage.

I believe that that is part of what the whole name discussion is about: authority in a marriage. How can a man view himself as the head of his household if the woman believes she is his equal? I happen to occasionally watch The Duggars on TV. I caught the episode where the oldest son was marrying. During the interview of the minister he said, “It is only right that the bride pass from the authority of her father to the authority of her husband.” or something very similiar. To me that sounds suspiciously like being owned as property. If the bride’s changing her name is beneficial, I ask  beneficial to whom?

Genesis 2:24 says:  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. It doesn’t say the woman shall leave her father and mother, only the man. If he is the one who should be leaving, why should he be the one to retain his name and not her her own? Of course when this was written nobody had a last name!

According to statistics, 90% of American brides take the names of their husbands when they marry. However, that is overwhelmingly among those first time brides who are marrying first time grooms when they are young. Among those women who are marrying for the first time later in life, which seems to be a growing trend, there is a higher percentage of those retaining their own names.

Why would a woman want to keep her own name? There are many reasons. She may not wish to lose the sense of her own identity. She may believe it is an equality issue. She may wish to continue identifying with strong ethnic relationships with her family. She may not wish to be a second (or fifth) Mrs. Him. She may have a good reputation as a professional already. Professional women making name changes can lose a lot of clientele in the transaction. In some Latin American countries the woman uses her husband’s name first and then her name. Anne Smith marries John Doe becomes Anne Doe Smith. She may wish to continue that “tradition”. She may closely identify with her family’s history and status…a Rockefeller marrying a Smith (as if that woud ever happen).

Whatever the reason for taking a husband’s name, it is strictly tradition. Tradition can be a powerful tool in deciding who is “in” and who is “out” in a community. There are often strong repercussions to breaking with tradition. It is not something that a young woman generally does on a whim. But if she does decide to maintain her maiden-birth name, she should be able to do it without condemnation from the community…and without having to read headlines like 70% of all Americans think brides should change their names.

Of course if you believe Tevye, without traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof? Would they really?


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