When I married my husband, I didn’t even think about changing my last name. He asked once or twice, just to make sure we were on the same page, but it was a non-issue for both of us. Of course, both my family and his address all my mail to Mrs. Swenson, but no one else seems particularly concerned with my decision either way.
But this week, I’ve been thinking about what names really tell the people we talk to, especially online — most of our interactions are text, so we all make judgment calls based on names and tiny profile pictures. I even wrote about whether a male name has an affect on business over on Grow Smart Business earlier this week. But there are far more factors than just whether or not you have a feminine name. Your surname can play a part (and in ways you might never expect).
Less Professional Respect with a New Name
Among other things, studies imply that a woman who keeps her name after marriage has a better chance of landing work and earning more:
Women who took their partner’s name appear to be different from women who kept their own name on a variety of demographics and beliefs, which are more or less associated with the female stereotype (Study 1). Subsequent studies show that women’s surnames are used as a cue for judgment (Studies 2-4). A woman who took her partner’s name or a hyphenated name was judged as more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent, and less ambitious in comparison with a woman who kept her own name. A woman with her own name, on the other hand, was judged as less caring, more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent, and more competent, which was similar to an unmarried woman living together or a man. Finally, a job applicant who took her partner’s name, in comparison with one with her own name, was less likely to be hired for a job and her monthly salary was estimated €861,21 lower (calculated to a working life, €361.708,20).
Source: “What’s in a Name? 361.708 Euros: The Effects of Marital Name Change” from Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Volume 32, Issue 1 March 2010 , pages 17 – 25 via Bakadesuyo
I’d love to see a similar study on women who freelance: I’m not sure how the numbers would actually play out. After all, most freelancers have already proved that we’re more ambitious just by striking out on our own. There are definitely other factors at play.
The Marketing Cost of a New Name
One of the issues that I’ve been hearing more and more when I talk to freelance writers who work primarily online, interestingly enough, is that not every woman feels like changing her name is even an option now. When you’ve invested years in building profiles on social networking sites, making sure your name can be found in any search engine and telling editors just how to spell your byline, the idea of changing names is downright scary. And what if you fall in love with someone whose last name happens to be Smith? Good luck landing a domain name then!
Women in academia have been dealing with this question for decades: when you’ve published under your maiden name, trying to get recognition under an entirely different name can’t be easy. But I think personal branding and search engines have brought the question to a whole new level. I don’t think I could afford to change my name if push came to shove.
The solution, for some women, has been to change their legal names while continuing to use their maiden names professionally. It’s an option, but not the only one.
A Side Note
I don’t think this is simply a question for women planning to get married. I’ve got plenty of friends of both genders who have changed names — two of my friends both changed their last names when they got married, a (male) cousin of mine changed his last name so that a family name would not die out, and so on.