RENO, Nevada — What’s in a last name? Muscle, apparently. Men married to women who opt to keep their maiden names after tying the knot are often viewed as less masculine and lacking pants in the relationship, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Nevada conducted three related studies in the United States and United Kingdom, hoping to learn how a woman’s decision to keep her last name affected how others perceived her husband.
The researchers’ first two studies found that whenever a husband’s last name differed from that of his wife’s, he was frequently described in ways that both deemphasized his masculinity and overemphasized any feminine characteristics.
Meanwhile, previous research has shown that wives who shun the time-tested naming tradition enjoy a number of benefits, including higher social status and perception of power, along with increased self-focus, ambition, and assertiveness.
These qualities run counter to older, rigid portrayals of women, which depict them as kind and nurturing, yet powerless, the researchers note.
“A woman’s marital surname choice therefore has implications for perceptions of her husband’s instrumentality, expressivity, and the distribution of power in the relationship,” says Rachael Robnett, the study’s lead author, in a journal release. “Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple’s gender-typed personality traits.”
Robnett’s third study showed that men who held steadfast beliefs on traditional gender roles showed increased prejudice against husbands who didn’t share their last name with their spouse, seeing him as disempowered.
“We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles,” she explains. “Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women’s husbands.”
While societal change benefiting women has continued at a steady pace, many feminists still wonder when women will no longer be expected to take on their husband’s surname, which they regard as an obsolete practice.
“The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition,” Robnett argues. “It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men.”
The researchers published their findings last week in the journal Sex Roles.