A Bride's Hardest Decision: Maiden Name vs. Married Name

marriage names/ABC News

For some women, agonizing over the style of their wedding dress or the flavor of their cake is not nearly as difficult as deciding whether they'll say "I do" not only to their husband's hand in marriage but also to taking his last name.

"I thought long and hard about carrying on the tradition of my own [family's] name or starting my own tradition and taking my husband's name," said 30-year-old Aga McDaniel. She eventually decided to take her husband's last name after her May 2007 wedding.

Rhiannon Kelleher, who will get married in July 2010, said that she and her fiancé also spent quite a bit of time discussing whether she would take his last name, Bruins.

"It wasn't a decision I took lightly," said Kelleher, 24, who ended up deciding to take her husband-to-be's name.

McDaniel and Kelleher are not alone in their decisions: According to two recent surveys, the majority of American women think brides should take their groom's name and many think it should be a legal requirement to do so.

Researchers at Indiana University and the University of Utah found that of approximately 850 people they surveyed nationwide, 71 percent of them agreed it is better for women to change their name upon marriage.

About 50 percent of respondents, men and women who ranged from 18 to 90, also thought that it should be a legal requirement for a woman to change her name upon marriage, according to the study.

In an even larger survey conducted by The Knot Wedding Network, 88 percent of the 18,000 couples nationwide who were asked about their name-changing plans said they were planning to adopt their spouse's name.

Most Brides Now Take Husbands' Name

Rebecca Dolgin, the executive editor of TheKnot.com, a popular wedding site that is a subsidiary of The Knot Wedding Network, said that she was surprised the percentage of women who take their husband's name was so high.

"There was a point in time, maybe two decades ago, when women were less likely to take their husband's name and part of it was the feminist perspective to assert their own name and to keep their separate identity," said Dolgin.

"But today there has been a little bit of a turn and women are saying that by taking my husband's name I'm not giving in to anything and I'm still just as much a feminist as I ever was," said Dolgin.

Dolgin added that 60 percent of the survey's respondents said that their imminent name change was the "biggest post-marriage change." Only 16 percent said they considered hyphenating their maiden name with their husband's name, said Dolgin.

Respondents to the surveys provided several reasons in support of changing their name to their husband's, including the sheer convenience of having a family in which everyone has the same name.

That convenience was not lost on Kelleher, who said that she thought about her future children when deciding to take her husband's last name.

"For me, changing my name was signifying that Adam and I were starting our own family together, with the same name," said Kelleher of her relationship with her husband-to-be. "Also in terms of ease, I won't have a different name than Adam, who won't have a different name than our children."

But for other women who decided against changing their names, keeping a separate identity from their husbands even after marriage far outweighed the annoyance of having to explain why family members had different last names.

"My husband and I both believed that we should keep our own identities, and he was fine with me not taking his name even though our parents would have preferred I did," said Margaret Tarampi, 30, whose wedding was in May 2008.

"But there is always confusion about whether or not I've taken his name," she said.

Why Some Married Women Keep Their Own Names

Tarampi said that another reason she did not take her husband's name was because she had already been published under her own.

Reasons like Tarampi's were more common a few decades ago, according to Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Washington and the author of "Marriage, A History."

"Women in the late 60s and 70s were very, very conscious of just how much marriage used to destroy a woman's personhood," Coontz told ABCNews.com.

"Until the 1970s most states had head and master laws that said a woman could not keep her own name at marriage," said Coontz. "And she could only take it back at divorce if she could prove her husband had been at fault."

While women at the time were aware of the restrictions and then rebelled against them by keeping their own names, women today are more secure with their identities and don't believe taking their husband's name will change that, said Coontz.

But despite the studies that indicate more women are taking their husband's names than aren't, women like Kelleher still didn't find that the decision to take her husband's name became a point of contention with her friends and family.

"I've been given a range of reasons as to why I should keep my own name," said Kelleher. "[Some people] have told me I'm disrespecting my family or that I'm being too anti-feminist."

"I think it's ridiculous," she said. "I'm 100 percent sure I'm taking his name, but the looks I get from other women when I say that tells me that they are not too happy about it."

"I don't feel that changing takes away from my place in my family or from me being a strong woman."