Laurie Scheuble: Marital Surname Guru

Laurie Scheuble is a fabulous sociologist at Penn State who researches a number of topics but most interestingly to me, marital naming. I'm sure I'll be mentioning her many many more times on this blog, so I wanted to start off by giving her a proper introduction! I came to know of her through her appearance on the "What would a feminist do?" podcast but you'll also see her quoted in many many news articles on marital name trends; she's pretty much the expert* on marital surnames these days.

By Jenn and Tony Bot, Used under a Creative Commons license.

By Jenn and Tony Bot, Used under a Creative Commons license.

Just as a few examples:

"Maiden Names, on the Rise Again" By Claire Cain Miller and Derek Willis, New York Times, June 27, 2015

“The pressure [to take their husband's name] is huge,” said Laurie Scheuble, who teaches sociology at Penn State and studies marital naming. “This is the strongest gendered social norm that we enforce and expect.”

She said the resurgence in keeping names could be because women now go to college at higher rates than men, celebrities often keep their names and couples commonly live together before marriage.

“When they do get around to marrying, they’ve already lived in a household with two names, so maybe it seems normal to them,” Ms. Scheuble said.

"A bride-to-be asks about keeping her last name" By Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2015.

I was so certain, when I got married 31 years ago, that the tradition of a woman adopting her husband's name would become a relic of a dusty past, a sexist oddity one step removed from the "Mrs. John Smith" references that once erased women's first names, too.

I was so wrong.

Even back in the name-keeping heyday of the 1970s and '80s, the majority of women — including some of my most independent-minded, professionally accomplished women friends — were taking their husband's name.
The social conventions are just too strong, said Laurie Scheuble, senior lecturer in sociology at Pennsylvania State University. She is co-author with Penn State sociologist David Johnson — her husband, whose name she did not take — of a study that showed 82 percent of female college students said they intended to take their husband's name if they married.

"I don't think it's ever going to change very much," she said.

"A Marriage Proposal Can Bring Up Question of Identity" By Carol Guensberg, VOA News, December 24, 2016

"Ninety percent of women still change their names upon marriage, though 20 percent keep their birth surname as their middle name," said Laurie Scheuble, a Pennsylvania State University sociologist who has studied marital naming conventions for three decades. "It is, in fact, the normative thing to change your name to your husband’s."

According to Scheuble, "women who retain their birth surname tend to be well educated." They have careers, lower levels of religiosity, nontraditional gender roles and "husbands who are well educated, too, because it’s the whole tolerance factor." She has found no link between name retention and commitment to marriage. "There’s no differences in divorce rates among people who change their names or not." 

The researcher kept her surname when she married, as did another sister, to prevent it from dying out, she explained. When she and her husband had a daughter, Scheuble became the girl’s middle name. 

"Women get lost, women have always gotten lost" to historical records, Scheuble said. 

You can find some of her articles online - though most of them are behind paywalls - but I've really enjoyed reading the one article I can find available online for free.  I particularly find some of the hypotheses contained within fascinating. 

"Marital Name Changing Attitudes and Plans of College Students: Comparing Change Over Time and Across Regions" Laurie K. Scheuble, David R. Johnson and Katherine M. Johnson; Sex Roles, February 1, 2012.  [Internal citations removed to increase ease of reading]

"Practices may be indicative of social norms, but do they adequately reflect attitudes? There is evidence that social expectations for women in relation to work and family life have changed substantially over the last several decades and become much more progressive found that, over time, there have been higher levels of support for women's rights and less agreement with survey items that have a more restrictive view of gender roles. Why have these changes in norms not been reflected in an increase in the percentage of women who retain their birth surname upon marriage?

One potential explanation of this issue arose in a study by Nugent (2010): she conducted a content analysis of 600 internet posts on the topic of children's surnames. Although women sometimes had preferences to keep their birth surnames (and give these names to their children) partners, relatives, and others “enforce[d] the cultural mandates of single shared surnames." As such “cultural reality” thwarted women's “egalitarian agendas” because women are often held accountable to different standards than men when making sacrifices for home and family life. This justifies viewing attitudes as separate from plans or practices for marital naming and suggests that women's attitudes about marital naming may be more progressive than their actual plans. This is consistent with the theory of cultural lag that some elements of culture change far more slowly than others and that norms may change more rapidly than actual behaviors. While women are accepting of other woman retaining their birth surname when they marry they do not plan to do so themselves."

Other articles quoting Laurie Scheuble or featuring her research: 

"Not taking Hubby's Name? You May be Judged Harshly" By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, February 23, 2012

"Japanese women want to keep their surnames, but legal hurdles still remain" By Motoko Rich, New York Times, October 24, 2016

"Millenial moms making their last name a child's first name" By Alison Bowen, Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2015

"What's in a name? Hillary Clinton knows more than most" By Lisa Lerer, Associated Press, December 5, 2015


*Sidenote: I love seeing what areas academics become known as experts in. When I was a journalist, I always enjoyed combing through my undergraduate university's Media Sources Guide and finding the most unusual expertises possible. Some of my favorites: the science of happiness,  the history of death in america, vehicle safety devices, the history of nuclear weapons, using technology in natural environments, job satisfaction, and proms. I would LOVE to learn about the history of all of these things, quite honestly.