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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6 Comments

Filed under Casual conversation, family, general topics, life, marriage, musings, relationships, self worth, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Women’s Names, Traditions, and Statistics Oh My!

  1. Shannon

    Thank you for writing about this! I love this topic, and as you know from reading my blog, I’m keeping my last name when I get married next spring. For the record, my husband is keeping his last name too. Funny that nobody questions that…

    Anyway, I love reading other perspectives on the issue, especially ones so open-minded as yours.

    • atticannie

      One of the reasons that women give for wanting only one name in the family is so that their kids aren’t confused. I asked my son if he ever had any problems with our two last names. He said the thought never occurred to him. He was also given my last name as his middle name and his father’s name as his last name. I figured if it worked for John Fitzgerald Kennedy it would work for my kid.

      I really didn’t endure very many conversations about my decision the entire time we were married. There was one silly conversation though that I do remember. My ex and I had joined a Newcomer’s Club in CT. We went to a wine and cheese party. The hostess greeted us at the door and in her best nasal upper class CT voice she said, “I know the two of you are married and the you kept your name, but how do I introduce you to my children? I said that my name is Annie Smith and this is my husband John Doe. She replied with an Oh and changed the subject. The strange thing was her children of course weren’t at the party and since we only lived there again, I never ran into her again!

      Oh…and on the countless forms that ask marital status, I always put single. I was married 16% of my life. That fraction gets smaller every year. I refused to be branded.

      I guess I’ve grown quite independent.

      If you’d like to add me to your blogroll, I’ll freely discuss my opinions with anyone who wishes to talk. I hope I keep in touch with you. Blessings with your future. Attic Annie

      EMAILING FOR THE GREATER GOOD Join me

  2. Atticannie,
    I’m sorry to hear about your “previous” bad experiences…that’s too bad.

    Respectfully, on your statement “if you read the verse the way I tend to see it” is wrong.

    The bible was not written in a vacuum, and we aren’t allowed to make it mean what we want it to mean; it has one meaning and one only.
    That’s not a slam on you so please don’t take it that way.
    Later on in scripture Paul references these verses and so does Jesus and reinforces the “man is the head/woman is the helper” sort of relationship:

    Ephesians – Chapter 5:25-33

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

    In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

    After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-for we are members of his body.
    For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

    This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church.

    However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself…

    PS: I’m not LDS 🙂 I’m not sure at all how they’d view the name thing.

    And again…none of this is a slam or anything, I tend to type fast and not insert too many social graces into my writing… 🙂

    • atticannie

      I’m not sure what your quotes had to do with how I read the Bible but they are interesting to review. I am not sure that your phrase “one meaning onlY” is really clear. Somewhere along the line someone, like you, tells me what that meaning is. Isn’t that their interpretation of the Bible? I feel the Bible is a holy book to give me guidance, strength, encouragement, etc., but in the end, I have to read the Bible and get its messages through my eyes and my understanding. Each of us can only learn from our own understanding. I think that is one reason why I practice my faith the way I do. I see the Bible in a way that is not filled with what I am allowed or not allowed to think about it. I see it as a valuable guide in my daily walk with God…a God who doesn’t beat me over the head with his word and his only one meaning, but lovingly shares it with me on a personal basis.

      • atticannie

        I’ve read all of the NT but have not the OT. Thanks for dropping by. Maybe we can chat again some future time.

  3. atticannie

    Thank you for your reply. I very much love the biblical view of marriage and would have been happy in one had my ex complied with all the conditions. However, I’ve seen very few where they are really a “team” when the husband believes in a biblical view. They tend to overlook your points 2 and 3. My point about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife did not make much difference until people started using last names eons after the creation of man and woman. If you read that verse the way I tend to see it, I think it could be interpreted that the man should become part of the world of the woman…a matriarchal lineage as opposed to a patriarchal lineage. That was the case for countless generations. I think the world would be a much different place if the man had done his cleaving within the woman’s family. I guess I am wrong about my assumption of a Mormon woman assuming the name of her husband if it is not about the names. I am guessing you may be LDS affiliated. If you are, is your attitude towards you wife’s name a common sentiment among the general LDS population? I’m open to learning as much as I can about the beliefs of all people. Humans relationships with God have always fascinated me. I appreciate your reply. Please drop by again.