Vol. 59 No. 1 (2011)
Research Article

Taking Thy Husband's Name: The Role of Religious Affiliation

Published 2011-03-01





This study examined the influence of religion on women's decision to retain their birth names after marriage. Samples (N = 2575) were derived from wedding announcements in the New York Times, a major US newspaper. Multivariate analysis, controlling for age and year of marriage, indicated that the net effect of religion accounted for 2.6 percent of the likelihood of name keeping (p<.001). The highest percentage of women retaining birth names were those marrying in civil ceremonies (55.9%). Women marrying in Catholic ceremonies were least likely to keep their birth names (24.6%), followed by those marrying in Protestant (27.9%) and Jewish (37.5%) ceremonies. There was a systematic age-related increase in the likelihood that a woman would keep their birth name that lessened the role of religion on name keeping. Women who married at 35–39 years of age were 6.4 times more likely to keep her birth name compared to women 20–24 years of age. Although women who married in 2007–2008 were 3.1 times more likely to retain their birth names than those married in 1990–1991, the interaction between time period and religion was not significant. We conclude that while religion still exerts a major influence on name keeping, that influence has been gradually diminishing as American women delay age of marriage.


  1. Abel, Ernest L. 2008. “Changes in Gender Discrimination After Death: Evidence from a Cemetery.” OMEGA: The Journal of Death and Dying 58: 147–52.
  2. Abel, Ernest L. & Michael L. Kruger. 2009. “The Widowhood Effect: Comparison of Jews and Catholics.” OMEGA: The Journal of Death and Dying.
  3. Atkinson, Donna L. 1987. “Names and Titles: Maiden Name Retention and the Use of Ms.” Women and Language 10: 37.
  4. Axinn, William G. & Arland Thornton. 1992. “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Causal Influence?” Demography 29: 357–74.
  5. Bartkowski, John P. 2001. Remaking the Godly Marriage: Gender Negotiation in Evangelical Families. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  6. Bartkowski, John P. & Jen G. Read. 2003. “Veiled Submission: Gender Negotiation Among Evangelical and US Muslim Women.” Qualitative Sociology 26: 71–92.
  7. Bartkowski, John P. & Xiaohe Xu. 2000. “Distant Patriarchs or Expressive Dads? The Discourse and Practice of Fathering in Conservative Protestant Families.” Sociological Quarterly 41: 465–85.
  8. Booth, Alan, David R. Johnson, Ann Branaman & Alan Sica. 1995. “Belief and Behavior: Does Religion Matter in Today’s Marriage?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57: 661–71.
  9. Brightman, Joan. 1994. “Why Wives Use Their Husbands’ Names.” American Demographics 16: 9–10.
  10. Burdette, Amy M., Christopher G. Ellison, Darren E. Sherkat & Kurt A. Gore. 2007. “Are There Religious Variations in Marital Infidelity?” Journal of Family Issues 28: 1553–81.
  11. Call, Vaughn R.A. & Tim B. Heaton. 1997. “Religious Influence on Marital Stability.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36: 382–92.
  12. Casper, Lynne M. & Suzanne M. Bianchi. 2002. Continuity and Change in the American Family. Thousand Oak, CA: Sage.
  13. Chaves, Mark. 1994. “Secularization as Declining Religious Authority.” Social Forces 72: 749–74.
  14. Dillon, Michele. 1999. Catholic Identity: Balancing Faith, Reason, and Power. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Durkheim, Emile. 1951 Suicide: A Study in Sociology. New York: Free Press.
  16. Embleton, Sheilah & Ruth King. 1984. “Attitudes Toward Maiden Name Retention.” Onomastica Canadiana 66: 11–22.
  17. Etaugh, Claire E., Judith S. Bridges, Myra Cummings-Hill & Joseph Cohen. 1999. “Names Can Never Hurt Me? The Effects of Surname Use on Perceptions of Married Women.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 23: 819–23.
  18. Fontes, Lisa A. 1995. Sexual Abuse in Nine North American Cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  19. Foss, Karen A. & Belle A. Edson. 1989. “What’s in a Name? Accounts of Married Women’s Name Choices.” Western Journal of Speech Communications 53: 356–73.
  20. Gay, David A., Christopher G. Ellison & Daniel A. Powers. 1996. “In Search of Denominational Subcultures: Religious Affiliation and ‘Pro-Family’ Issues Revisited.” Review of Religious Research 38: 3–17.
  21. Glass, Jennifer & Jerry Jacobs. 2005. “Childhood Religious Conservatism and Adult Attainment Among Black and White Women.” Social Forces 84: 555–79.
  22. Goldin, Claudia & Maria Shim. 2004. “Making a Name: Women’s Surnames at Marriage and Beyond.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 18: 143–60.
  23. Hammond, Judith A., Bettie S. Cole & Scott H. Beck, 1993. “Religious Heritage and Teenage Marriage.” Review of Religious Research 35: 117–33.
  24. Hartman, M. & H. Hartman. 1996. Gender Equality and American Jews. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  25. Hoffnung, Michael. 2004. “Wanting It All: Career, Marriage, and Motherhood During College-Educated Women’s 20s.” Sex Roles 51: 455–67.
  26. Hood, Ralph W., Jr, Bernard Spilka, Bruce Hunsberger & Richard Gorsuch. 1996. The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. New York: Guilford Press.
  27. Iontons-Peterson, Margaret J. & Jill Crawford. 1985. “The Meanings of Marital Surnames.” Sex Roles 12: 1163–71.
  28. Johnson, David R. & Laurie K. Scheuble. 1995. “Women’s Marital Naming in Two Generations: A National Study.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57: 724–32.
  29. Kosmin, Barry A. & Ariela Keysar. 2008. American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Available at: [accessed 11/2/2009].
  30. Knudsen, Knud & Kari Waerness. 2001. “National Context, Individual Characteristics and Attitudes on Mother’s Employment: A Comparative Analysis of Great Britain, Sweden and Norway.” Acta Sociologica 44: 67–79.
  31. Kupper, Susan J. 1990. Surnames for Women: A Decision-Making Guide. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
  32. Lesthaeghe, Ron. 1983. “A Century of Demographic and Cultural Change in Western Europe: An Exploration of Underlying Dimensions.” Population and Development Review 9: 411–35.
  33. Lillian, Donna L. 2009. “Social and Regional Variation in Women’s Marital Surname Choices.” LACUS Forum 34: 147–56.
  34. Marini, Margaret M. 1985. “Determinants of the Timing of Adult Role Entry.” Social Science Research 13: 309–50.
  35. Mullins, Larry C., Kimberly P. Brackett, Daniel W. Bogie & Daniel Pruett. 2006. “The Impact of Concentrations of Religious Denominational Affiliations on the Rate of Currently Divorced in Counties in the United States.” Journal of Family Issues 27: 976–1000.
  36. Murray, Thomas E. 1997. “Attitudes Toward Married Women’s Surnames: Evidence from the American Midwest.” Names 45: 163–83.
  37. Noack, Turid & Kenneth A. Wiik. 2008. “Women’s Choice of Surname Upon Marriage in Norway.” Journal of Marriage and Family 70: 507–18.
  38. Pearson, Judy. 1985. Gender and Communication. Dubuque, IA: Wm C. Brown.
  39. Pew Forum On Religion and Public Life. 2008. US Religious Landscape Survey. Available at: [accessed 3/1/2009].
  40. Rourke, M. 1998. “A Woman’s Place: What the Denominations Think.” Los Angeles Times, June 16, n.p.
  41. Scheuble, Laurie K. & David R. Johnson. 1993. “Marital Name Change: Plans and Attitudes of College Students.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55: 747–54.
  42. Scheuble, Laurie K. & David R. Johnson., Klingemann, Kathrine & D.R. Johnson. 2000. “Trends in Women’s Marital Name Choices: 1966–1996.” Names 48: 105–14.
  43. Seltzer, Judith A. 2000. “Families Formed Outside of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family 62: 1247–68.
  44. Sherkat, Darren E. & A. Darnell. 1999. “The Effect of Parents’ Fundamentalism on Children’s Educational Attainment: Examining Differences by Gender and Children’s Fundamentalism.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38: 23–35.
  45. Sherkat, Darren E. & A. Darnell. & C.G. Ellison. 1999. “Recent Developments and Current Controversies in the Sociology of Religion.” Annual Review of Sociology 25: 363–94.
  46. Smith, Tom W. 1990. “Classifying Protestant Denominations.” Review of Religious Research 31: 225–45.
  47. Stannard, Una. 1977. Mrs Man. San Francisco: Germainbooks.
  48. Stopler, Gila. 2005. “The Liberal Bind: The Conflict Between Women’s Rights and Partriarchal Religion in the Liberal State.” Social Theory and Practice 31: 191–232.
  49. Suter, Elizabeth A. 2004. “Tradition Never Goes Out of Style: The Role of Tradition in Women’s Naming Practices.” The Communication Review 7: 57–87.
  50. Thornton, A., William G. Axinn & Daniel H. Hill. 1992. “Reciprocal Effects of Religiosity, Cohabitation, and Marriage.” American Journal of Sociology 98: 628–51.
  51. Thornton, A., William G. Axinn & Jay D. Teachman. 1995. “The Influence of School Enrolment and Accumulation on Cohabitation and Marriage in Early Adulthood.” American Sociological Review 60: 762–74.
  52. Twenge, Jean M. 1997. “Mrs His Name: Women’s Preference for Married Names.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 21: 417–29.
  53. US Census Bureau. 1999. Table MS-2. Estimated median age at first marriage, by sex: 1890 to the present. America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2003 and Earlier Reports (Annual social and economic supplement: 2003 Current Population Survey, Current population Report, Series P 20–553). Washington, DC.
  54. Wheeler, Raymond & B. Gunter. 1987. “Change in Spouse Age Differences at Marriage: A Challenge to Traditional Family and Sex Roles?” Sociology Quarterly 28: 411–21.
  55. Wu, Zheng, Margaret J. Penning, Michael S. Pollard & Randy Hart. 2003. “In Sickness and in Health. Does Cohabitation Count?” Journal of Family Issues 24: 811–38.
  56. Xu, Xiaohe, Clark D. Hudspeth & John P. Bartkowski. 2005. “The Timing of First Marriage: Are There Religious Variations?” Journal of Family Issues 26: 584–618.