What does a woman’s surname say about her husband? This question often arises when the woman chooses to either retain her family name or use a compound name after marriage. A new study recently looked at how the woman’s choice of her surname is perceived by the public. The researchers found that in the United States, men married to women who do not use their husband’s surname are perceived as ‘submissive’, ‘caring’, ‘disempowered’, ‘understanding’ or ‘timid’.
The study titled “Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband? An Analysis Focusing on Gender-Typed Traits and Relationship Power Dynamics” was published in Springer’s Sex Roles: A Journal of Research by researchers from University of Las Vegas.
The pending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have royal watchers brushing up on royal naming practices and asking ‘what’s in a name?’
The new study led by a psychology professor, Rachel Robnett shows that a wife’s choice of surnames may influence perceptions of her husband’s personality and the distribution of power in the marriage.
In a three-part study conducted in the U.S. and the U.K., Rachael Robnett and her coauthors concluded that men whose wives retain their own surnames after marriage are seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship.
“The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men,” said Robnett, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Las Vegas.“Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple’s gender-typed personality traits,” she said.In study 1, the researchers surveyed U.S. undergraduates and asked them to characterize a man whose wife retains her surname after marriage. Respondents described the man using expressive traits and commented that he was “caring,” “understanding,” “timid,” and “submissive.”
In study 2, participants in southeast England read a vignette about a fictional engaged couple and took a survey about their perceptions of the woman’s surname choices.
In study 3, also conducted with U.S. undergraduates, the researchers examined whether hostile sexism, or an antagonistic attitude toward women, helps to explain individual differences in participants’ responses to questions of power in a fictional marriage. Respondents who held firmly to traditional gender roles and can be described as hostile sexists perceived a man whose wife retained her surname as being disempowered.
“We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles,” Robnett said. “Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women’s husbands.”