Surname strategies

Journal article

With Sara Mills, Laura L. Paterson, Georgina Turner and Laura Coffey-Glover (2017) Identity and naming practices in marriage and civil partnerships. Gender and Language, 11(3): 309-35.

Manuscript available here.

Using data from an online survey of 1,000 respondents, this article demonstrates the continued prevalence of traditional, heteronormative practices regarding marriage and naming practices. The survey data reveals that it continues to be viewed as more ‘normal’ for a woman to take her husband’s surname in a heterosexual union. Whilst other options (such as the woman retaining the surname given to her by her parents, for instance) are often considered or taken following heterosexual marriage, these continue to be seen as a deviation from the norm. We find that the role of tradition is critical to people’s decision over what to do with their surname, whether they follow the culturally expected route or consciously deviate from it, and that it is broadly perceived that same-sex couples have comparably more freedom than heterosexuals to do as they choose regarding their names. Through qualitative, critical analysis of the discursive responses of those completing our survey, we demonstrate that heteronormative assumptions about a woman’s role in a relationship with a man have continued salience and that, for many heterosexual women, this leads to a conscious and often difficult negotiation of her own identity as both an individual and a wife. We also suggest that there is a cultural perception in the UK that same-sex couples’ relationships are intrinsically more equal than opposite-sex couples’, and that they benefit from standing outside of heteronormative traditions. This work emerges from the Discourses of Marriage Research Group.


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