Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Choice of Surname upon Marriage in Norway

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Choice of Surname upon Marriage in Norway

Article excerpt

This study examines women's choice of surname upon marriage, using a nationally representative Norwegian sample (N = 1,276). Regression analyses revealed that age at marriage, own and mother's education, urban residence, importance of paid labor, liberal family values, and egalitarian work-family roles positively influence marital name keeping. Women's increasing education and economic independence and changes in marriage and the social institution of the family suggest a rising likelihood of name keeping over time (1980 - 2002). According to our descriptive results, more women are keeping their surnames upon marriage. Controlling for the factors influencing marital name keeping, however, women marrying between 1990 and 2002 were less likely to be name keepers than women marrying in the 1980s.

Key Words: family changes, gender, marriage, Norway, surname.

Marital naming practices can be understood as a barometer of gender ideology and women's standing in society. Commonly, the tradition of women taking the husband's surname upon marriage is interpreted as supporting patriarchal values (Scheuble & Johnson, 1993). For many years, this marital naming pattern has provoked feminist critique. An example is the Lucy Stone League to ensure equal rights for both women and men to retain, modify, and create their surnames (www.lucystoneleague.org). Given the prolonged struggle of feminists to gain legal and social acceptance for women to keep their names upon marriage and the general and even more prolonged gender equalization process in society, the traditional naming practice could be expected to decline. Studies from the United States, however, do not confirm such a development, leading Suter (2004, p. 58) to argue that "the continued prevalence and acceptance of women changing their names illustrates a perplexing historical paradox."

Since the late 1960s, families and marriage in Western Europe and North America have undergone significant reshaping. These developments are often referred to as the second demographic transition and include changes such as increased age at first marriage, rising divorce rates, more remarriages, and cohabitation (Lesthaeghe, 1998; Van De Kaa, 1987). Marital name changing seems even more perplexing in light of these trends. For instance, the rising age at marriage could increase the rate of name keeping among women because of a stronger identity attached to their given birth name before marriage. Premarital cohabitation means that it is common for couples to live together without a shared surname, whereas an increasing divorce rate and remarriage imply that choice of surname on marriage is not necessarily a lifelong decision.

Few studies have investigated women's choice of surname upon marriage outside the United States. This study extends previous research to investigate women's marital naming in Norway, using nationally representative survey data on women in their first marriage. The Scandinavian countries have a history of gender equality values and norms and public policies to promote equity between the sexes (Ellingsaeter & Leira, 2006). Additionally, in these countries the features associated with the second demographic transition have a long and widespread history (Surkyn & Lesthaeghe, 2004), and they are seen as forerunners in family development. The Norwegian case may thus shed new light on the relation between the degree of gender equality in a society and macrolevel family changes and individual decisions regarding women's marital naming.

In this study, we examine the proportion of married women retaining their maiden names upon marriage (i.e., name keepers) versus name changers (i.e., those who change to their husband's surname with or without their birth-given surname as a middle name). We use multivariate models to analyze the importance of women's socioeconomic status, as well as their attitudes about family values, ideal work-family roles, and the importance of paid labor. …

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