Poll Results for “What’s in a Name?”

Names are used as identification and often provide the world with information about our identity, marrital status, country of origin, and even cultural and religious information.  Now, using only a name, the internet can provide even more information (both personal and professional) about our identity. So, it’s no surprise that everyone feels strongly when making the decision to keep, ditch, or morph their surnames after marriage.  In my previous post,“What’s in a Name?”, I asked you all to take a survey answering personal questions about what influenced your decision about keeping or changing your surname. This is a follow-up post to report on the results of that survey. There were over 100 visitors to the post, and of those visitors, I received a total of 46 responses to my poll (which is not too shabby!).  The majority of the responses were from Canadian women born between 1980-1989.  The Women that took this survey overwhelmingly chose to keep or morph their names (70%) based primarily on personal and professional reasons.  Overall, participants were just as intrigued about the topic of names, and contributed many eye opening comments that are included in this post.

So why did YOU choose to keep, ditch, or morph your surname?  Here’s the results broken down by question:

1) What is your gender?

Of the 46 responders, 42 were female and 4 were male.  (So if you are just reading this now, and especially if you are male, it not too late to take the survey!)  The 4 men that responded to my survey had very open minded opinions but if your interested in another (larger) survey visit, “How Men REALLY Feel When You keep Your Last Name” published in Women’sHealth (August 2013).

Your comments:

“I’ve considered hyphenating my name, but generally speaking women I have dated would prefer we each keep our own names or that she would change hers.” (Male, USA, born 1987)

“Who knows what will happen if/when I get married! If my partner would have particularly strong feelings about what to do with our names, I would probably default to their position, because I don’t.” (Male, USA, born 1987)

2) What year were you born? The results were skewed towards responders born in the 1980’s.  (This bias is most definitely a result of a large number of my friends/peers reading my blog and taking the poll.)  None-the-less, there was a strong response from women born in the 80’s and 90’s to keep their surname (or hyphenate).  Women born in the 70’s were torn (about 50/50) and majority of all women born before the 1970 changed their name.

Percent (%) of responders born within a certain decade.
Figure 1, Percent (%) of responders born within a certain decade: blue= 1950-1959 (7%), red= 1960-1969 (2%), green= 1970-1979 (20%), purple= 1980-1989 (60%), and teal= 1990-1999 (11%).

Your comments:

“I was married in Germany, before there was a choice to keep your surname (1988). Looking back, if I was given the choice, I would have kept my maiden name.” (Female, Germany)

3) What is your country of origin? Responders to the poll were spread across 9 country’s, including Canada (54%), U.S.A. (32%), United Kingdom (2%), Romania (2%), Republic of Georgia (2%), India (2%), Germany (2%), Australia (2%) and Switzerland (2%).

Your comments:

“In India..an individual’s surname usually indicates his/her caste (example: Raja Patel – Patel denotes a caste). This allows people to identify people’s caste, which at times lead to discrimination.  My current surname has NO connotations to caste. It is my father’s first name. By keeping my current surname I hope to carry my fathers name around rather than a caste name!” (Female, India, 1988)

“Other reason- husband previously married, did not want to be second Mrs. x (even though 1st partner changed name back after divorce). Long standing tradition in Scotland to have mothers maiden name as middle name, we did this so my son has both names but it’s not too long (my last name is 7 letters, makes for a long hyphenated name).” (Female, Canada, 1983)

4) What is your sexual orientation?

Unfortunately, there were very few responses from the gay community (but again, it’s not too late, and if you are reading this… go take the survey!).  Majority of the responses were from heterosexual (84%) readers but a few from bisexual (11%) and homosexual (5%) as well.  ALL homosexual responders kept (or would keep) their name.  The majority of bisexual responders replied that they would keep or hyphenate their name (one mention that it depends on the aesthetics of her partners name).

Your comments:

“As a lesbian, I think it is interesting to see how the gay population is dealing with the last name thing now that marriage is legal in so many places. I have married gay friends who have hyphenated, who have kept their own names, and one couple who is considering coming up with a new last name altogether that they would both take. It’s interesting to see how the gay community deals with the last name issue, and if we consider the same things as does the straight community when deciding what to do. I think we have less pressure to take someone else’s name, but perhaps the same desire to be seen as a ‘team’.”  (Female, USA, 1973)

“Before we were married, we briefly, and half-jokingly considered changing our surnames to something non-familial–it would have been Sanchez!– but that conversation didn’t go very far, and my Mom was a bit against the idea. So six years on we have kept the names we were born with, doesn’t seem much point to change now.” (Male, Canada, 1970)

5) What is your highest level of education?

This poll was strongly biased by highly educated people, Figure 2 (good for you!).     This not not a typical result… therefore, I’m not going to make any inferences here.

Percent (%) of responders  for three groups of education: 1) blue= graduate school, 2) red= post secondary school, and 3) green= secondary school.
Figure 2, Percent (%) of responders for three groups of education: 1) blue= graduate school [61%], 2) red= post secondary school [37%], and 3) green= secondary school [2%].
6) How many times have you been married?

Majority skipped this question… fair enough!  So, I looked up some stats on marriage and divorce in the US. In 2009, 58% of women & 54 % of men (age 15+ married once), 12 % of men & 13 % of women had married twice, 3 % each had married three or more times (Kreider & Ellis 2011).  Again, no data here, so I can’t speculate on any correlations on the number of marriages and names.

7) After marriage, did you (or plan to) KEEP your surname?

The majority of responders said that they kept or morphed their name (70%) as opposed to those that changed (30%).

Percent (%) of responders for 5 answers: 1) blue= Yes,  "keep my name" [57%], 2) red= No, "change it" [30%], 3) green= Hyphenate [9%], 4) Other [4%], and 5) Fuse [0%].
Figure 3, Percent (%) of responders for 5 answers: 1) blue= Yes, “keep my name” [57%], 2) red= No, “change it” [30%], 3) green= Hyphenate [9%], 4) Other [4%], and 5) Fuse [0%].
Your comments:

“I absolutely loath fused names. just a point i felt i needed to make.”  (Female, Canada, 1986)

8) Rank the reasons for keeping/changing your surname.

The all together top 5 (weighted) reasons that you kept/ changed your surname were 1) personal identity, 2) professional identity, 3) Family Identity, 4) Hassle and 5) Aesthetics.

Your comments:

“I am not the property of my father, and i do not become the property of my husband upon marriage. my name is mine and i’ll keep it.” (Female, United Kingdom, 1987)

“I’ve always loved my last name. I think when/if I ever get married my decision to either keep or change my last name, or make up an entirely new one will depend in part on the last name of my partner. I really like the idea of making up a new last name, but I I think family identity is too important to me for me to be able to do that.” (Female, Canada, 1988)

“In my case, Reason # 1 was it would create too many confusions professionally with publications and taxonomy in terms of naming new species. I was already published and had named new species under my maiden name. Reason #2 is that most people find my husband’s name unpronounceable. I did not want to have to become “Dr. LeChe…. Dr. LeCheva…. Dr. LeChevali…. etc.” to students. Or worse, “Dr. L.” because people are completely incompetent at both reading and French.” (Female, USA, 1975)

“None of the reasons listed are particularly important to me – I don’t plan to get married or have married or have children and thus have no reason to change me name.” (Female, Canada, 1986)

“I changed mine for [children, religion, cultural reasons, and family identity] but also because I got married RIGHT before my first pub came out, so having it change would not show up on my CV. If I was already published, I’m not sure I would have changed it.”  (Female, USA, 1990)

“I like how his surname sounds with my first name. I want people to know I’m his wife. I feel that I have changed as a person since I’ve lived with my parents and consider my new name my adult name. I want to have the same name as our kids.” (Female, USA, 1984)

“I also get “Oh you’re one of those people” with the stigma that I must be a weak minded, living in the past woman who doesn’t know better. I took my husbands name simply because I wanted to. I always find it curious that people have an opinion of what others choose. Good for you for choosing what fit you. If “being one of those” means we are among strong happy women who know what suits them, then I am indeed on of those!” (Female, Canada)


Kreider  RM & Ellis R (2011) Number, Timing, and Duration ofMarriages and Divorces: 2009. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C. 10 pages.


I know statisticians hate pie charts.  (Viorel just made a point to tell me.)  So, to all you statisticians (or non-statisticians) that hate pie charts, I apologize but I just think they’re pretty and I never get to make them.  …Making up for lost pie chart time here.

Tavi and the Rex-a-roo wanted to have their pictures taken too (for the featured image in “What’s in a Name?”)… Viorel declined to participate.

IMG_4575 IMG_4577


“What’s in a name?”

Recently I was asked “why didn’t you take your husbands surname, Popescu?” For me, and for my husband, it wasn’t a decision we gave much thought.  Many women in Academia keep their names for professional reasons (publications, contacts and networks, etc.).  So, in our circle, it’s not uncommon and (up until this moment) we have never felt any stigma associated with our choice.  For me, the answer was simple… I like my name.  It sounds pretty and it’s been mine my whole life.  Anything else just wouldn’t feel right.  (And if I’m being totally honest here, my name would have been Bekka Sue Popescu.  Which rhymes and sounds silly!)  Nonetheless, when I had to explain the reason for keeping my surname, the response I sometimes received was, “oh, you’re one of those people!”  Hmm…  Yeah, I guess I am one of those people.  So, this post is about finding out more about those people who choose to keep their surname.

There are many reasons for a women (and even a man) to keep, change, hyphenate or even fuse their name after marriage, and over the years, these reasons have changed dramatically.  These reasons include children, identity, career, culture, religion, aesthetics (like the sound of Bekka Sue Popescu), and hassle.  With the passage of time, changes in social and cultural norms, the weight placed on these reasons has changed dramatically too.

To start my investigation about those people, I asked friends, family, and friends of family.  As an American, and a scientist, its normal for me ask lots of questions.  This time however, the type of questions I was asking were personal… and it was hard to get people to share private information.  When I did receive responses it became obvious that many people, especially women, struggle with the question.  If was clearly great blogging material!!

Mrs. Brodie, Popescu, Brodie-Popescu, Popescu-Brodie, Brodescu?!?!
Mrs. Brodie, Popescu, Brodie-Popescu, Popescu-Brodie, Brodescu?!?!

After my initial survey, it appeared to me that the main reason older generations of women decide to change their names after marriage or, after divorce, keep their former surname was for their children.  From the responses I received women explained, “it cuts down the confusion at school” making it easier for the children because “children that had different names than their parents meant that they were out of wed-lock”.  Fifty years ago, the main reason to marry was to have children and a women’s job was to raise them.  However, with the passage of time and the acceptance of women in the work force, this stigma has been reduced (in places but not everywhere).  Many of my friends and colleagues have kept their maiden name after marriage and children were not a consideration that factored into their decision making.

Some women I interviewed wanted to accept their growth and change in identity (as wife and a mother) and take their husbands name. Even after a divorce one women’s comment was, “I wanted my child and I to be identified as a team” and kept her previous husbands surname.  Many young women, however,  explained to me that they prioritize their identity, independent of their husband and children (or future children).  One of the responses I received was, “I am many things, a friend, sister, scientist…. not just a wife and mother.”  In fact, one women admitted it was silly but that “when mail arrives for Mrs. John Smith (made up name to protect privacy), I do not regard it as having anything to do with me, for I am not Mrs. John Smith, and even get irritated by it.  It’s annoying when people make that assumption.”

Adopting your husbands name is a tradition held in English speaking countries (U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia) and a few others (South Asia and India). European countries seem to be a lot less traditional than North Americans. In most European countries, women keep their traditional surnames, in France “no one may use another name than that given on his birth certificate”.   There is more flexibility, women can adopt her husbands name or men can adopt his wife’s name; and there appears to be no social stigma (which you would most certainly find in North America). Also in Europe, there is an increasing trend for couples to live together in a committed relationship that choose never to get married because they “just don’t see the point.”

The number of women keeping their surname has been on an upward trend, peaking in the 1990’s (Kopelman, R and Prottas, D. J. 2009).  The increase is undoubtedly linked to the feminist movement (1960’s and 1970’s), the increased number of women in the work force, and the diversity of careers they hold.  Career women who have built a professional network don’t want to potentially compromise it by changing their names.   In fact, research has shown women married between the ages of 35-39 are 6.4 times more likely to keep their name (Kerns et al. 2011).  Similarly, the divorced women I’ve interviewed have kept their x-husbands surname because they had already established themselves and their career.  Additionally, although it hasn’t been investigated, I would be willing to bet the increased use of online social media (LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, etc.), which makes local and global networking (professional and personal) easier, has played a large role in women’s choice to keep their surname… it would be interesting to look for a correlation there.

Lastly, many women explained to me that they kept or changed their name for aesthetic reasons, i.e. it is pretty and they like it (or sound terrible and really don’t like it).  One of my very close friends has an Italian first name and, will only consider taking her future husbands surname if it’s Italian because “It just won’t sound right.”  She said she “would consider fusing surnames” (different than hyphenation) which is becoming a popular trend with young couples. Many women admitted that the whole thing is “just a huge hassle with all the paperwork and fees, it’s just not worth it!”  None of the women I interviewed mentioned religion, culture, or tradition affecting their choice but, undoubtedly, I’m sure they are out there!  (I’ll admit my sample size has been biased thus far!)

There are many reasons for women (and men!) choose to keep or change their names after marriage but, as I learned during my investigations, this is a very personal question.  (Additionally, I realize that asking a subsample of friends, family, and friends of family is rather biased.) It’s one of those topic’s which really fascinates me and, additionally, I’m very curious how the gay population is dealing with surnames now that marriage is legal in so many places. So I invite you all to take a brief (only 8 questions) and anonymous survey, or kindly leave a comment with your opinion on the topic.  The results from the poll will be updated on this post as the data rolls in.


Kerns, Myleah Y. 2011. North American Women’s Surname Choice Based on Ethnicity and Self-Identification as Feminists. Names- A Journal of Onomastics, 59 (2) 104-117.

Kopelman, Richard E.; Prottas, David J. 2009. The bride is keeping her name: a 35-year retrospective analysis of trends and correlates. Social behavior and personality, 37 (5) 687-700.