For many women, marriage means a lot of changes. One of those changes is a new last name. The University of Tilburg in Holland did a study of 2,400 married women and found that three out of four women took their husbands' last names. Seven percent hyphenated their last names and the rest kept their maiden names.
Reasons for Keeping Your Maiden Name
On the surface, it may seem like a decision that has a lot of emotional, ethical and ideological implications, but very few financial or career implications. According to researchers, that may not be true. What motivates a woman to hyphenate or hold on to her maiden name? The decision may be as simple as not liking her spouse's last name. A perceived sense of inequality may drive the decision or the decision may be for reasons outside of marriage.
CBS tells the story of Cheryl Fenton. When Fenton got married in 2006, she knew she had married the right man. "In my heart, I was Cheryl McPherson," she said.
Fenton is a freelance writer who writes for local and national media outlets. Her only branding was her name and changing it to McPherson would be similar to a well-known business changing its name to something entirely different. This wasn't an option for her business, so she elected to keep her maiden name. Is Fenton's decision to keep her maiden name for the sake of her career a good financial move? Researchers say yes. According to the same Dutch study, over the course of their careers, women who kept their maiden names made as much as $500,000 more than those who changed their names.
Another part of the study was to ask 90 students to use five words to describe "Helga" after meeting her at a party. Some met Helga Kuipers and her husband, Peter Bosboom, while others met Helga and Peter Bosboom. Those who met Helga Bosboom described her as caring, dependent and emotional. Those who met Helga Kuipers described her as more intelligent and competent.
Finally, in a fictitious job interview the same woman was interviewed, once with a hyphenated name and once with her husband's name. Those who interviewed the woman with the hyphenated name judged her more likely to be hired and offered her a significantly higher salary than the people who interviewed the same woman with her husband's last name. Researchers caution that the judges were students without the life experiences of older more experienced career professionals. This may have introduced stereotypes that skewed the study.
No Right Choice
Many women know that making a name change and communicating it to all of the people in their personal and professional lives is not easy. Career consultant Elaine Verelas advises women to effectively get the word out to everybody they know now and in the past. She says that a name change without effective communication can result in lost career opportunities.
The Bottom Line
Holding onto your last name in order to make more money probably isn't a wise choice either. The study may have found that women who hold on to their last names make more money, but hard work pays off more than the name on your job application.