Should women be required by law to take their husband’s surname?

The most common reason people think women should take their husband's name is because it shows a commitment to prioritizing their marriage and family, the study says. Getty Images

Editor’s note: The story has been updated for clarity purposes.

Women should be required to take on their husband’s last name – at least that’s what the majority of U.S. adults believe.

But why do so many people want to hold on to the name-changing tradition? That’s what researchers at Portland State University wanted to find out in a recent study they published in the journal Gender Issues.

Seventy per cent of the 1,200 people who participated in the survey say women should still take their husband’s name in marriage – 50 per cent of which say they want to take it as far as making it the law, lead author Emily Shafer says.

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“I found that for most individuals, a woman’s surname choice has no impact on how they view her as a wife or to the standards to which they think she should be held,” Shafer tells Global News. “There was an impact for men with lower education levels, however. Men with low education thought a woman was a less committed wife who should be held to stricter standards by her husband if she had a different last name than his.”

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On top of that, she says, the men in this group felt husbands were more justified in divorcing their wives.

The most common reason people felt a woman’s name should be changed is because they believe that women should prioritize their marriage and family ahead of themselves, and the action is a symbol of that belief.

For Shafer, the results of this study paint a picture of where society is today.

“It highlights that, despite the advancements that women have made, there still is an expectation that women should put their families ahead of themselves,” Shafer says. “And low educated men see not taking a husband’s last name in marriage as going against this cultural expectation and think a woman should be punished for it.”

As well, she says, the results help people gain a better understanding of where gender attitudes currently lie.

“I think highlighting the ways in which the gender system punishes women who do not ‘act accordingly’ is important,” she says. “And I think it is important to show that women can be ‘punished’ for going against what is expected of women in their personal lives.”

Shafer adds, “Previous research has highlighted how such backlash for gender non-conformity is possible, even likely, in their professional lives, but this study emphasizes that it doesn’t end when women leave work to go home.”

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Despite the attached stigma, a 2015 report found that more and more women are keeping their maiden names after saying “I do.”

An analysis by The New York Times’ Upshoot blog reported that about 30 per cent of women no longer change their names (20 per cent of which have kept their last names in full while 10 per cent have opted for a hyphenated name).

This is compared to about 17 per cent of women in the 1970s who did the same thing.

And while a woman’s surname remains a personal choice in the U.S. and most of Canada, there are places in the world where women are not allowed to take the man’s name.

Quebec is Canada’s example of such a practice. The province enacted a law in 1981 that forbids women from using her husband’s surname after marriage.

Greece has also enforced a law since 1983 that requires women to keep their own names, Time reports. And in the Netherlands, women are only allowed to change their maiden names under special circumstances.

In Malaysia and Korea, there is no law enforcing the name change, however it is custom for women to keep them.

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