Matrimony as a Kinship Bond

This story shows that -- in spite of decades of 'contract theory' approaches to marriage -- a substantial part of the public still has at least a vague understanding of what marriage really is.
"In its purist form, marriage is about starting a family, and I wanted to start that family with the same name," she said. "Eventually it came down to practicality and what felt right."
Like Rogers, an overwhelming majority of all brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for a woman who refused to take her husband's name in 1855. Another survey, published last spring in the journal Gender and Society, finds that at least half of those queried said they would agree that a name change should be a requirement for marriage. "It absolutely shocked us," said co-author Brian Powell, who is a professor of sociology at Indiana University.
Powell surveyed 815 Americans of all genders and educational and economic backgrounds, asking them if they "agreed" or "did not agree" with certain statements on views of family. More than 70 percent of women said they agreed that a woman should change her name at marriage. And half said "yes" when asked whether making the name change a state law was a good idea.
Although the story is about name-changing, the change itself is not the important part of the story. The important part is what Ms. Rogers says: "In its [purest] form, marriage is about starting a family[.]" [I assume that "purist" is a rather interesting editorial decision rather than her actual word choice. --Grim]

Marriage is a kinship bond uniting bloodlines across generations. The sense that this is not about one's own personal identity, but about forging a new family, is a very healthy and correct instinct.  Exactly how names are aligned is less important than that this sense is maintained -- and indeed, the study shows that something like a majority would support the groom taking the bride's name.

Catholics are least likely not to change their names, followed by Protestants and Jews, but that the overall rate of non-changing is only 18%.  Tellingly, gay men who choose to pursue "gay marriage" tend to keep their own names -- pointing clearly to the fact that something other than the forging of a new kinship bond is at the core of this practice.

Interesting stuff.  I have very little by way of an opinion about whether or not a woman ought to take the name of her husband.  The foundation of marriage is a matter that is of interest to us all, as the foundation of marriage and family is the foundation on which any civilization stands -- if it does.


Eric said...

I think most of the respondents are just replying to what they grew up with. In other words, it's a cultural thing.

In Iceland today, the naming isn't is patronymic or matronymic:

And if Cecil is right, something else again is going on in Hispanic countries:

James Lileks had a humorous take on this, dragging up some cooking contest ephemera from the 1940's or 1950's where all the women were identified only by their husbands' names: Mrs. Joseph Smith, etc...

Anonymous said...

Most of the women that I know take their husband's last names, at least legally. There are some who, having established a professional reputation prior to marriage, use their maiden name professionally and their married name socially. The few exceptions I know that have children have given the children the father's family name.

However, I must state in the interest of fairness that I know one lady who regrets taking her husband's last name, as now her first and last names are the same! She goes by her first and middle initials in order to limit the confusion. When asked she admits that she didn't think about the possible complications when when and her now-husband got married.


htom said...

Spice had a stronger professional reputation than I did, and kept her name; we would have used my family name for children.

It's handy for dealing with cold-callers; people who ask for Mr. R or Mrs. T ... they don't know us from Adam.

Only problem seems to come from government agencies, who sometimes seem to have troubles coping with it.

RonF said...

Heh. Mrs. F.'s last name was F* before we got married. That's how we met, in fact - seated in alphabetic order in High School homeroom our Junior year. It's caused a few laughs over the years.