What’s in a last name? Almost $500K

A friend sent me a link to this Salon story about a new study by Dutch researchers that shows that women who keep their last names after marriage — as opposed to taking a spouse’s or hyphenating – are judged as ” more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent, and more competent.” Those judgments translate into practice: Name-keepers are more likely to be hired for a job, and to earn more, almost $500,000 more over a working life.

If I was more cynical feminist, I’d pair this study with the one researchers at the universities of Indiana and Utah did last year in

Judgeth not, lest ye...oh, you know

Judge her not

which half of respondents saying the U.S. government should mandate name change at marriage (I’m still shuddering) and shout, “Aha! Now I’ve got you, patriarchal power structure! Make women change their names, squeeze their salaries over their lifetimes as a result, keep them dependent and quiet, and keep your comfy status quo!”

But I’m not that kind of a feminist.

On the face of it the Dutch study results endorse one of this blog’s aims – that more women choose to keep their birth names upon marriage. And I’m certainly glad it didn’t reveal the opposite. But my real, pie-in-the-sky goal, is to eliminate the judging that comes with women’s name choices. Why on God’s green earth IS it, as the study abstract says, that “studies show that women’s surnames are used as a cue for judgment”? Would studies ever show that men’s surnames are used as a cue for judgment? Sounds ridiculous, right?

It does because men (pausing to acknowledge the miniscule fraction who choose to hyphenate or adopt a wife’s last name) never have to deal with the question of name change, whether they marry or stay single. No change, no cue, no judgment.

So the only way to eliminate the judgment loops back to my original goal: Getting women to keep their birth names after marriage. A lot of women. And – the big step – getting women to pass their surnames on to their children in equal measureĀ  to men. If we achieved name choice equality, if it really was equally likely that a child would bear a mother’s name as a father’s and then keep it for life, then there’s no basis for judgment.

When we get there, we really will have come a long way, baby.

More on this story: Harvard Business Review, NY Times, Salon.

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