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As I was saying the other day, I think economics and rational choice and so forth are just great. But if Tyler Cowen really thinks he can discuss why women are much more likely than men to adopt their spouse's name at marriage as a strategic bargaining question without any reference to social history well, let's just say he'd better think a little harder about that. I think it's pretty clear that we've got a hefty dose of path-dependence and historically-determined expectations operating here.

For the record, I take an extremist line on this question. Adopting your husband's name isn't the worst thing in the world to do, but it's still wrong. And, no, feminism isn't all about choices. It's about equality. And, yes, given the historical dynamic changing names is often the individually rational thing to do in a self-interested sense. But right and wrong isn't about self-interest. Now, no more posts today, it's time for some birthday celebratin' but feel free to condemn my extremist (and under-explained!) view on this.

May 18, 2005 | Permalink


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» Name that! from coffee grounds
Long discussion on several blogs (Volohk Conspiracy, Matthew Yglesias, Marginal Revolution) about whether women should take their husband's name upon marriage. The comments at both Volokh Conspiracy and Yglesias' site are fascinating. I have not seen a... [Read More]

Tracked on May 18, 2005 7:09:45 PM

» The Left's Answer to Derbyshire? from The Colossus
Could be, could be. I bet there are a lot of heated arguments between them in the AV storage room. Not to jump in to what looks like an interesting slide-rule-light-saber-fight between Yglesias and Tyler Cowen, but my two cents are: who knows why wome... [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2005 8:43:00 AM

» A Mechanism Already In Place from Signal + Noise
A better solution to the family naming problem... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2005 12:34:09 AM

» Naming Trouble from Battlepanda
Now, this really touches quite close to home since, not too long ago, the subject came up in my circle of friends from college and I realized to my surprise that most of my female ones are actually planning to change their name to their husbands afte... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2005 11:42:11 AM

» Shadows Still, Move Across the Distance... from Dizzy Girl
Didja miss me last week? I know you did. ;) Real World - Summer is officially here! Yippee! Time to sweat to death in 110 degree weather. What fun! Millions of rude, ill-behaved teenagers running rampant until the early morning... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 3, 2005 9:05:58 PM

» Shadows Still, Move Across the Distance... from Dizzy Girl
Didja miss me last week? I know you did. ;) Real World - Summer is officially here! Yippee! Time to sweat to death in 110 degree weather. What fun! Millions of rude, ill-behaved teenagers running rampant until the early morning... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 3, 2005 9:09:03 PM


Adopting your husband's name isn't the worst thing in the world to do, but it's still wrong. ... [F]eel free to condemn my extremist (and under-explained!) view on this.

Very well: I condemn your extremist (and, candidly, altogether unexplained) view on this.

Do you condemn women who wear skirts? After all, men don't wear skirts(*), and feminism isn't all about choices -- it's about equality.

Happy birthday, incidentally.

(* I omit the obligatory Groundskeeper Willie reference.)

Posted by: alkali | May 18, 2005 5:04:26 PM

You get off work at 4:56 pm? Nice job.

Posted by: ostap | May 18, 2005 5:05:39 PM

My wife and I viewed a name change as a sign of committment. We both despise hyphenated names, and just decided all told it would be easier for her. Also, we liked my last name better.

Your position isn't so much wrong as just silly.

24, to answer a question you asked a few posts ago, is indeed still young.

Posted by: Realish | May 18, 2005 5:06:33 PM

The problem here is, as usual, the children.

I've known Rosenblatt-Adris' and Belt-Decker's cursed with the additive power of hyphenation. Neither of them, I believe will be naming children with 3 or 4 last names.

Wives not changing their name is no big deal, my fiancee is planning on keeping hers so as not to break the continuity of her academic publications.
But the kids have to have SOME last name. And splitting them up gets political. As does having a parent with a different last name as the child.

I think there are practical reasons for simply having traditions and following them. I'm not a big fan of people making up traditions from whole cloth, if only because such things seldom survive the generation they were created in.

Posted by: Michael McLawhorn | May 18, 2005 5:06:41 PM

Extremism in birthday celebratin needs no explainin.

But stay concious, or take a little nappy, for the Mavs/Suns tonight.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 18, 2005 5:10:56 PM

i'm with alkali.

it's wrong when a women chooses of her own free will to change her name to that of her husband? is it also wrong when women choose traditionally female vocations? so any woman who chooses to forgo a professional career to stay home with her children has made a wrong choice? what about men who do the same, is that a right choice?

how about this situation: man and woman get married. by agreement, they will rochambeau (rock paper scissors, for the uninitiated) and the loser takes the name of the winner. that's pretty a pretty equal proposition isn't it? well, let's say the woman throws scissors and loses to the man's rock. then when she takes her husband's name per their agreement, is *that* wrong? or is it just wrong that she chose to throw winpy paper, when she should have realized that her chauvinist husband was going to throw rock no matter what?

Posted by: neanderthal | May 18, 2005 5:13:54 PM

I'm telling you people, take the more pleasant-sounding name.

The aesthetics here are way more important than the politics.

Posted by: Realish | May 18, 2005 5:17:08 PM

Good old rock. Nothin' beats rock.

Posted by: JP | May 18, 2005 5:19:05 PM

I really think my wife's surname is cool--way cool. I told her she should keep it, and she wanted none of that. You're saying that the feminist thing for her to do would have been to accept my preference that she keep her cool surname?

Let's just say you need to think a little harder about that.

Posted by: Matt Davis | May 18, 2005 5:19:59 PM

And, no, feminism isn't all about choices. It's about equality.

Wow... I can barely find self-described feminists who will acknowledge that. I also have yet to meet a man who can maintain their position in defense of the tradition (which, btw, isn't absolutely consistent even in Western European history-- if a wife came from a more prominent family, everyone was better served by taking the higher-prestige name) in any way other than they would submit to their lower status if they had been born female. Good thing women are so, um, naturally geared toward compromise.

Posted by: latts | May 18, 2005 5:21:08 PM

So how do you think the issue of last names should be resolved, Matt? Ifthe husband and wife have different last names, how do you want them to name their children?

"And, no, feminism isn't all about choices. It's about equality."

So in essence you are stating htat feminism is anti-liberty. When liberty and equality collide, I usually go with liberty.

Posted by: Glaivester | May 18, 2005 5:22:40 PM

Women, if you want to know what actions will or won't advance your cause, Matt Yglesias has the answer. Check his blog daily for your "do's" and "don't's."

Upcoming on the wrong list:


---Thong underwear.

---Shaving your legs.

---Staying home with the baby.

Posted by: Anderson | May 18, 2005 5:23:15 PM

As someone (female) with a very common and short first name who's always ended up being addressed with both names by most people, I find the idea of changing my last name if I married jarring, no less so than changing my first name would be. Can't wait to see the look of horror on my mother's face when I drop that one on her. Of course, no one seems particularly interested in marrying me yet, so this is purely hypothetical.

In terms of children, I don't see a particular problem--why not just do it the way we learned in middle school spanish class to accomodate both parents' names without endlessly multiplying to get a 16 part hyphenate?

Watcha doing to celebrate your birthday?

Posted by: flip | May 18, 2005 5:26:48 PM

If there were no history of women changing their names, then, no, there's nothing wrong with a particular woman changing her name for any of the reasons mentioned here.

But it's impossible to escape the history. Women historically changed their names to indicate that they were passing from the father's ownership to the husband's. Today the notion of "ownership" is gone (unless you're a wingnut) but the name change still signals a subordination of the woman's existing identity to a new identity as "wife." It's a short step from taking the last name "Smith" to "Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith."

There are also enormous practical hassles in changing your name; is it really fair that the woman should always have to bear these hassles?

Of course it is much better to raise kids with one name that is the same as that of both parents. The solution is for men and women to change their names in roughly equal numbers, and/or to adopt new names altogether if desired. Until the numbers are equal I will always feel very uncomfortable about the implications of female name-changing.

(I should mention that I am sensitive to the idea of subordinated identity because I have a "IV" tacked on my name. I've never appreciated the idea -- as much as I love my dad -- that I have some kind of obligation to continue the identity and tradition associated with someone else's three-generations-old name. I would never, ever name my kid with a "V," or a "Jr." for that matter.)

Posted by: dal20402 | May 18, 2005 5:28:12 PM

my son's legal name is four parts, first, middle, her last, my last. my daughter's last two names (she's due any day now!) will be the same.

I have friends who ask why my daughter won't have her last name, and the answer is that it's a pain in the ass and impractical.

As for why my last name instead of hers, the reason for the tradition isn't just paternalistic. Studies as recently as the 1940s in blood typing of the general population found that a statistically significant portion of children couldn't possibly be related to their purported father. at least they get his name.

Sometimes tradition is ok.

On the other hand, I have friends who, when they married, changed both their legal names to a new, created name. That is also awesome. She wasn't fond of hers, his was fairly nondescript.

Michael, did you go to UIUC? Rosenblatt-Andris can't be a common last name...

Posted by: dbt | May 18, 2005 5:35:42 PM

Hey, to all those people who panic and shriek, "BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IF SHE KEEPS HER NAME WHAT WILL WE CALL THE CHILDREN???" a humble suggestion:

Use the mother's name.

Posted by: theorajones | May 18, 2005 5:36:59 PM

Matthew Yglesias:
Adopting your husband's name isn't the worst thing in the world to do, but it's still wrong

Keeping daddy's surname instead is a blow for feminism?

Posted by: epistemology | May 18, 2005 5:37:30 PM

Whatever -- if a woman wants to take her husband's last name, let her. But he has no right to get pissy if she doesn't. I'm still surprised when guys I know get this way.

Now one practice that needs to die is the "proper" way to address a married woman according to traditional ettiquite. If Jane Smith marries Joe Brown, some traditionalists believe she should be addressed as Mrs. Joe Brown. My all-girls high school does that in its alumni magazine (e.g., "Mrs. Joe Brown (fmr. Jane Smith c/o 1994) is pleased to announce...") and it drives me nuts. Not only is it patronizing, none of us know who Joe-freaking-Brown is, nor do we care.

Posted by: Rebecca | May 18, 2005 5:39:32 PM

My wife has her original last name. My son has a hyphenated name.

What has surprised me in our 19 years of marriage is that I have never heard a negative comment or crack about this choice from a man, or even noticed a funny look from one, but have found that it does seem to rub many women the wrong way. If we have to fill out some forms or other paperwork, and a women is involved in helping us, we sometimes get looks and sarcastic asides that seem to express things like "Why do you insist on making things so complicated?" or "You think your better than me don't you?" or "Uppity PhD bitch." My anecdotal experiences suggest that a lot of women who did change their name carry a pretty big chip on their shoulder about it.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | May 18, 2005 5:40:43 PM

Whoa-- it's "wrong" to take your husband's last name? When you say something that nutty, you should explain your reasoning a little. None of the hardest-core feminists I know would say it's morally wrong to take your husband's name.

Posted by: Steve | May 18, 2005 5:47:44 PM

Hey, Dan. I'm an engaged woman and not changing my name, and I've taken shit from many a man over it. I live deep in the heart of allegedly liberal New York City, and it is absolutely shocking how many people (particularly, how many people with whom I am not particularly close) have felt the need to comment on my decision and speculate on what it reveals about my depth of feeling for my fiancee.

Seriously, my super? Can go fuck himself.

Most women change their names because they take unbelievable shit for not changing them, and everyone tells them how wonderful they are when they do change them. It's more than just the path of least resistance.

And the same kind of pressure is put on their fiancees, who are told by lots of people that they're marrying a horrible woman who isn't committed to the relationship (and who puts her selfish personal political statements higher than him). Or other men poke fun at the fiancee, because a "real man" would have gotten her to change her name.

Posted by: theorajones | May 18, 2005 5:51:48 PM

I'm sure glad MY's around to combat the dogmatic, moralistic Right.

Posted by: AndyNg | May 18, 2005 5:52:38 PM

I thought this was the most interesting part: ... isn't all about choices. It's about equality.

I admire Matt for taking a stand, but his general suggestion is that in some sense it's morally wrong for people to enter into an unequal relationship even by their free consent. So even if this is what they want to do, they still should not.

I'm not sure what to make of this. I don't think he's insisting on equality through coercion, since he seems willing to put up with the fact that women do change their names and only wants to register his disapproval.

I think my stance is a little different in that I'd prefer women not to adopt their husband's name (and I'm open to any suggestions of how to name the kids fairly) but I just don't see any issue of right or wrong. I just find it really hard to suggest that anyone is a bad person for taking her husband's name if that's what she is most comfortable with.

Posted by: PaulC | May 18, 2005 5:56:44 PM

The Indonesians (generally) don't have surnames and just make up names for their offspring. Sometimes you meet people who only have one name. They don't seem to suffer any problems from this unusual custom.

Posted by: ostap | May 18, 2005 5:58:15 PM

keeping daddy's surname instead is a blow for feminism?

Um, that implies that women never own their surnames, y'know... the fact is that most of us don't know how or why we were named when we learn our full names, and the whole point of this argument IMNSHO is that our identities shouldn't be subject to the structure of any personal relationships. My first & middle names go with my surname (by design, of course), in nine years I'll have had it as long as my father did, and regardless of where it came from, it's mine now. I don't owe it as some sort of sentimental sacrifice.

Posted by: latts | May 18, 2005 6:01:22 PM

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