Seventy percent of Americans think it's beneficial for women to take her husband's last name when they marry, while half say the government should require women to change their names when they marry, according to a new survey by researchers from Indiana University and the University of Utah. Responses were immediate. The Great Name Debate
"What women's lib?" asked a headline in the New York Daily News. "Taking away choice from something so wholly personal is quite another—and is one of those awful things that, like Michael Jackson's death, is initially shocking—and then, after a moment's depressed reflection, not at all," wrote Jezebel.com.
But it's dangerous to buy these headlines hook, line, and sinker because survey results like these are almost always more complicated than they seem. So before you schedule your move to Canada, let's get one thing straight: Academic research on the topic of married names is limited, but it points to increasing use of and positive perceptions of nontraditional last names, NOT to scary scenarios like government mandated married names.
As a family naming consultant with a degree in psychology, I spent two years researching trends and attitudes about nontraditional last names. The Name Survey included data from 1000 respondents and—although not intended to be academic—I found attitudes about nontraditional last names to be overwhelmingly positive. In my survey, three out of four people thought using something besides just a man's last name was a good idea.