Newswise — Today's couples continue to struggle over whether the woman should change her name upon marriage, despite the gains women have made in the workplace and other aspects of American society since the 1970s. In a national survey, 71 percent of respondents agreed it is better for women to change their name upon marriage, with only 29 percent disagreeing.

Surprisingly, respondents even split fairly evenly in their support of government regulation requiring name change. Researchers from Indiana University and University of Utah say these findings come despite a clear shift to more gender-neutral language, such as "chairperson."

"The figures were a bit sobering for us because there seems to be change in so many areas. If names are a core aspect of our identity, this is important," said Brian Powell, professor of sociology at IU Bloomington. "There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we're moving toward a more equal family, yet there's no indication that we're seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names."

Coauthor Laura Hamilton, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington, presented findings from the study, "Mapping Gender Ideology with Views toward Marital Name Change," on Tuesday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. The survey, a nationally representative sample, tapped 815 people and asked both multiple choice and open-ended questions. It was part of a larger survey probing public opinion of a range of gender- and family-related topics.

Somewhat contradictory, almost half the people surveyed said it would be "OK" for a man to change his name to that of his wife. But for respondents, male name change was so implausible that they off-handedly or hesitantly agreed it would be OK. For example, Powell said, one man laughed as he responded: "Sure, why not. Hey in America, anything goes!" Others said that it was OK because: "Sure, a man should be able to do it because he's a man."

Advocates of women changing their names emphasize a family and marital identity for women, indicating one family name makes more sense from a family and societal point of view. They rely on religion and tradition as the authority in this area. Name change critics focus on the importance of women's independent identities and to the ways they benefit individually, such as professionally, by keeping their own name. They also think the decision should be left up to the women.

Summaries of more IU studies presented at the ASA meeting can be read at These studies discuss the use of the Internet by rural gay youth to fit in, polarization and American politics, dog ownership, stigma and the medicalization of mental health and ineffective definitions of bullies.

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American Sociological Association