I Now Pronounce You Mrs. Lady Gaga and Husband

As I watch the sunny weekends of my summer calendar book up with wedding after wedding, I’m consistently curious to know if the bride-to-be is getting a new name with the transaction.

Many of these women I know are knee-deep in their careers and have quite a nice google return on their birth names. But what happens if they choose to change it? Will their personality and identity split online and the past accomplishments get folded into and recognized only by the way-back-machine? Or will getting a new name save them from the discovery by future employers of a salty picture or two from a holiday party run amok in their 20s? All these things and more, I wonder.

Below is an article from Jezebel which on some level seems to add one more tick to the CON pile of taking another’s name. The study itself is spurious, but many of the ideas behind it are still clearly relevant and unsolved.  If any of you dear female readers are married, I’d be curious to know if you’ve taken a new name, kept your own, and what ramifications (if any) have been directly related to that decision?

Take Your Husband’s Name And Take A Salary Cut

Take Your Husband's Name And Take A Salary CutTaking a husband’s name may mean taking a hit in the labor market, according to a recent study. But lower salary isn’t the only ill effect women suffer when they switch surnames — or, conversely, when they don’t.

According to Catherine Rampell of the Times Economix Blog, researchers at the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research gave Dutch university students descriptions of women that were identical, except for the women’s decision to take their husband’s names. Women who did so, the economists found, were seen as more “stereotypically feminine” — the students perceived them as “more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent, and less ambitious in comparison with a woman who kept her own name.” And in another experiment, the students were less likely to hire these women for a hypothetical job, and estimated their salaries as lower (by about $1,172.36).

As Rampell points out, the study has limitations. The students, for instance, were not actual employers. And as commenter Barbara notes, real bosses rarely have access to information about whether a woman has changed her name. Moreover, commenter Jennifer cites an effect of name-change not covered by the study — the loss of an online paper trail of publications and achievements under the previous name. She writes,

I’m interested to know more about the negative consequences of changing one’s name and then “vanishing” from sources of past accomplishments that would otherwise be searchable on-line (what employer doesn’t google their prospective applicant) or through other publications. In this case, the woman must either (a) continually cite her previous name to maintain the digital trail, or (b) accept that the advantages of having a digital trail may be lost.

Salon‘s Lynn Harris chose to solve this by keeping her birth name as her byline while using her married name in other situations. But even this compromise won’t work for everyone. Interestingly, Rampell chose to illustrate her post with a picture of Hillary Clinton, who had trouble in the presidential primaries in part because she was perceived as stereotypically un-feminine. Imagine how much more criticism she would have gotten for her supposed stridency had she run as Hillary Rodham.

Name-changing is still one of the many areas where society gets women going and coming. If you take your husband’s name, you must be dependent and incompetent. If you don’t, of course, you’re a ball-busting feminist — or that even more pitiable creature, someone without a husband at all. And, in most cases, you still have a name that came down to you patrilineally anyway. Luckily, there is one woman who’s thrown off the chains of the nomenclature patriarchy and received only praise for it. I speak, of course, of Lady Gaga.

(This is a re-post of a piece from Jezebel yesterday by Anna North)

1 Response to “I Now Pronounce You Mrs. Lady Gaga and Husband”

  1. 1 tigerladykatie
    April 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    My boss at the Census was complaining the other day about people with hyphenated last names — as you might imagine, hyphenated names are real pain in the ass to census-takers. She said “if you keep your own last name, it really just means ‘property of my father’, and if you take your husband’s name, it means ‘property of my husband’, and if you take a hyphenated name you are property of both, so for Christ’s sake just pick one.”

    It was an interesting take on the whole thing. I hadn’t really thought of myself (and still don’t) as “property of my father”, but I suppose thinking about it in a historical context, I can see where she’s coming from.

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