Law Should Require Bride To Take Groom's Name -- Really?

Young brides fall back on tradition and drop their maiden name for sake of kids.

ByABC News
November 4, 2011, 4:14 PM

Nov. 7, 2011— -- Julia Levine Rogers thinks of herself as a "strong modern woman," who at 27 has worked in health clinics in Africa and started her own travel business for students.

But when she married Tom Rogers last August in Stowe, Vt., she took his name, even though her own mother had refused to change hers in 1977.

"Choosing to take Tom's name was not a decision I came to lightly," said Rogers, who founded EnRoute Consulting. "I thought a lot about the implications of changing my name, especially since my mother chose to keep her maiden name. I wondered for a while if I was wrongly giving up my identity for an archaic tradition."

According to a variety of surveys, more young women are agreeable to taking a new identity at the altar, though their reasons have nothing to do with subservience.

"In its purist form, marriage is about starting a family, and I wanted to start that family with the same name," she said. "Eventually it came down to practicality and what felt right."

Like Rogers, an overwhelming majority of all brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for a woman who refused to take her husband's name in 1855.

Another survey, published last spring in the journal Gender and Society, finds that at least half of those queried said they would agree that a name change should be a requirement for marriage.

"It absolutely shocked us," said co-author Brian Powell, who is a professor of sociology at Indiana University.

Powell surveyed 815 Americans of all genders and educational and economic backgrounds, asking them if they "agreed" or "did not agree" with certain statements on views of family. More than 70 percent of women said they agreed that a woman should change her name at marriage. And half said "yes" when asked whether making the name change a state law was a good idea.

"Who are these 50 percent -- men?" asked Leslie Gately, a 28-year-old who lives in New York City and is engaged to be married next year. "I think that laws should have little to do with marriage, and the less government involvement the better."

Her fiance, Mike, has urged her to take his name, but she said it "feels a bit weird giving up a name I have had for so long ? [It] seems almost like giving up my family -- and it sort of make me feel like someone else's property."

Then she realizes her surname came from her father, and wonders, is she his property? Still, taking her fiance's name, another common Irish surname, wouldn't be so "drastic," she said. It would be Gately-Crowley.

Her own mother never legally changed her name.

In some ways women like Rogers, and perhaps Gately, have "reverted back," after their mothers' generation pioneered retaining their own names.

"Baby boomers are more likely to define themselves as feminists than young adults, even if their children share more liberal views," said researcher Powell.

An examination of The New York Times wedding announcements from 1971 to 2005 revealed that about 18 percent of brides kept their own names. Only 1 percent did in the 1980s, according to the 2009 study published in Social Behavior and Personality.

Catholics are less likely to keep their maiden names, followed by Protestants and Jews, according to a March 2011 survey in Names: A Journal of Onomastics.

The ultimate decision is really tied up in how women perceive their identity.

"One woman said I did change my name when I married my husband and I was sorry, because I lost my original identity as a person," said Powell. "But many focus on the collective identity of a family or their identity as the spouse of a husband."