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Good Question: How Often Are Women Taking Their Husbands’ Names?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In a time where much has changed about marriage, one thing has not: the decision to keep your name, take your husband’s, hyphenate, or do something else.

Are women taking their husbands’ last names as often as they used to?

“I’m just really excited to now be my husband’s wife,” said Natalie Nyhus, WCCO-TV’s morning traffic reporter, who recently married and changed her name from Natalie Kane.

“One of the first things I did was change it on social media,” she said, noting “I didn’t want to live half as Natalie Nhyus and half as Natalie Kane.”

Despite the fact that women are getting married later, and participating in the professional world at a higher rate, women are actually getting rid of their maiden names at a higher rate than they were in the 1990s, according to several research efforts.

A Harvard University study analyzed Massachusetts birth records (which record the mother’s maiden name), Harvard University alumni records, and New York Times wedding announcements. They found that in the 1980s, only about 9 percent of brides kept their names. By the 1990s, it was 23 percent. But over the last 10 years there’s been a reversal. In the 2000s, only 18 percent of women kept their names.

A survey of 11,000 brides on TheKnot.com in 2011 found just 8 percent kept their names, 6 percent more hyphenated.

“It’s incredibly counter-intuitive,” said Carol Bruess, the director of Family Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

“This idea of taking the husband’s name is a sexist cultural practice,” she said, noting that its history is rooted in the idea of a man taking a wife as his property.

“The trend is so powerful, we just keep doing it,” Bruess said.

Researchers haven’t pinpointed why the trend continues, but Bruess said she suspects we’re “clinging to tradition in an age where so much is new and novel.”

The research doesn’t show women like Sarah Fleegel, now Averbeck, who made her maiden name her middle name. Nor does it show women who have invented new last names, by combining the maiden name and the husband’s name.

Bruess said she was married 22 years ago, and took her husband’s name.

“If I had to do it over again, sorry honey, I’d probably keep my own name,” she said.

“Naming is a practice in power,” she added. “When you look at it from the power perspective, this gives men, the patriarchy, a lot of power.”

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