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Married women should say 'I don't' to changing their name, study suggests

Jillian Youds was well on her way to establishing her career before she got married. She had earned a doctorate degree in medical genetics, and had a scientific paper published in her name.

So when the B.C. native, who now works at London's Cancer Research UK, said "I do" in 2007, she decided not to take her husband's family name, lest it harm her chances at work.

"Publications are a big deal in science, in terms of future success in getting both jobs and funding," she explained. "If your publications can't be easily traced to you because you've changed your name, you're not doing yourself any favours"

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New research suggests Ms. Youds made a solid career decision in keeping her name, and not just by ensuring her accomplishments could be traced.

Women who take their partner's name are regarded as more caring but less intelligent, less competent and less ambitious, researchers from the Netherlands discovered. Moreover, they're less likely to be hired for a job and are perceived to earn much less at work than those who keep their own name.

In a four-part study titled "What's in a Name?", social psychologists at Tilburg University found that Dutch women who adopted their partner's name actually possessed different characteristics than those who kept their own, supporting previous U.S. research.

On average, those who had changed their name were older, had lower educational levels, had more children and held more conservative family values. And although they tended to display a stronger work ethic, they also worked fewer hours per week and earned a lower salary than those who did not change their names.

Marret Noordewier, one of the authors of the study, said in an e-mail that while these findings don't determine causation, they do suggest that "women who changed their names are different types of women."

In a second experiment, the researchers asked 90 participants to imagine they were invited to a party where they were introduced either to a married couple named Peter Bosboom and Helga Kuipers, who had kept her maiden name, or to a married couple named Peter and Helga Kuipers, Helga having taken her husband's name.

When Helga shared her partner's last name, both male and female participants perceived her as more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional and less competent - that is, the researchers say, more aligned with female stereotypes.

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Similarly, when 113 other participants were asked to form an impression of a female character in an ambiguous story, they judged her, again, as more "stereotypically female" if they were told she had taken her partner's name, or had a hyphenated last name.

In the final part of the study, 50 other participants were asked to judge a female job applicant, for a human-resources-manager position, based on an e-mail. They were also asked to estimate her potential salary.

The participants considered her less likely to be hired if they knew she had taken her partner's name. Moreover, they estimated she would earn €861 (about $1,150) per month less than a woman who kept her own name.

The authors acknowledged more research needs to be done to explore cross-cultural differences in people's perceptions.

In Canada, women seem to be wary about the impact a name change can have on their careers.

Jo-Anne Stayner, co-founder of I'm a Mrs, a Vancouver-based name-change service company, said a growing number of Canadian women are choosing to hold onto their maiden names as a "trade name" but adopt their partner's name on passports, bank accounts and other official documents.

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"That's all because of digital footprint," she explained. If you change your name, "you have to start over from scratch when it comes to your digital footprint, and I think that's a really big one for people that have worked so hard in establishing themselves in their careers."

In an October, 2009, survey of 1,278 women from across Canada, Ms. Stayner's company found that 46 per cent adopted their partner's name within three months of marriage, 8 per cent chose to hyphenate and only 7 per cent chose not to change their name at all.

Ms. Stayner noted that many women tend not to change their names until a couple of years after marriage, when they start having children.

"That's usually the trigger [for women to say] 'I don't want my kids to have a different name than me, so now I'm going to bite the bullet.' "

Ms. Stayner said she falls into the same mould, having kept her maiden name, Stayner, for business purposes. She delayed officially taking her husband's name, Purvis, until after her daughter was born.

Dr. Noordewier, however, said her study has given her even more reason to keep her maiden name.

"I was not planning to change my name because I like my own name a lot - and after these results, I am sure that I am not going to do that," she said.

Notable names

Hillary Clinton: First it was Rodham, then Rodham Clinton. Now, when people say "Clinton," it's a safe bet they're not referring to Bill.

Cherie Blair: Blair or Booth? The wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has her own distinguished law career, but even she has difficulty making up her mind over which moniker to use. She goes by Booth and Blair interchangeably.

Angela Merkel: Forbes dubbed her the most powerful woman in the world four years in a row, but how many people know the German Chancellor by her maiden name, Angela Kasner?

Michaëlle Jean: Before becoming Canada's 27th Governor-General, she enjoyed such a successful broadcast career, the Canadian public knew her on a first-name basis through her television show Michaëlle. Her Excellency The Right Honourable Michaëlle Lafond wouldn't doesn't have quite the same ring.

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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