Why so few men change their names in marriage — and why some choose to break the mold

Story at a glance

  • Most women still choose to change take their husband’s last name when they get married, while most men keep their own.

  • The reason so few men change their names is likely connected to ingrained gender roles, according to experts.

  • But there is a very small percentage of men married to women who take their wives’ last names, most of whom don’t see a reason to support traditional gender norms when it comes to name-changing in marriages.

Marriages between men and women are in some ways becoming more egalitarian, but traditional name-changing practices are still alive and well.

The vast majority of women continue to take their husband’s surname when they get married: 79 percent, according to a recent Pew Research survey.

And an even larger majority of men don’t change their names at all. The same survey found that just 5 percent of men take their wife’s last name and 1 percent hyphenate.

A 2022 survey from Zola, the online wedding registry, planner and retailer, had similar results. Out of over 1,000 male and female couples, just 19 percent planned to each keep their own name, 8 percent planned to combine and two — not 2 percent, two — planned for the man to take the woman’s name.

The reasons so few men make a change seem to be largely rooted in old and widespread gendered expectations, according to experts. The reasons some do, on the other hand, appear to be more tied to the men’s individual relationships — and to the women they’re marrying.

Why don’t most men change their names?

The short explanation for why so few men take their wife’s name? Blame the patriarchy, according to experts.

Most men don’t consider changing their last name because there is no expectation for them to do so under gender norms set by a patriarchal society, experts say.

“These gender norms, which give more power and privilege to males than females, are so interwoven into our society that it’s not surprising to me that men wouldn’t think about giving up their last name,” said Ronald Levant, professor emeritus at the University of Akron.

Experts also say some men might find the act to be emasculating.

“We live in a culture of male domination,” said Caitlyn Collins, an associate professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Think of little girls who dress as ‘tomboys’ — most people don’t have a problem with that because we tend to value anything associated with masculinity,” Collins added.

“But little boys who want to dress in clothes we normally associate with girls, like dress? Most people have a big problem with that because it’s seen as emasculating or inferior.”

This same attitude applies when it comes to taking a partner’s name, Collins added.

Gayle Kaufman, a sociology professor at Davidson College, agrees that that it is uncommon for men to be interested in taking on their wives’ last names because of patriarchal gender norms.

“This may be related to traditional expectations and notions of power,” Kaufman wrote in an email to The Hill. 

“Men’s identities are more tied to themselves and perhaps their work roles and less to their family relationships. So, they might be seen as less masculine if they do something associated with women and femininity.” 

Why do some men take their wife’s name?

It is unclear if more or fewer men are choosing to take their wife’s name than in the past. The Social Security Administration told The Hill it does not have any data on this and neither does the United States Census Bureau. 

But the Pew survey shows that men might warm to the idea of changing their names after being in a committed relationship.

The survey found that among men who have never been married, just 2 percent said they would take their spouse’s last name — less than half the share of already-married men who did so. Four percent of the unmarried group, meanwhile, would consider hyphenating their last name with their future wife’s.

“Perhaps when heterosexual men are ready to marry their partners, they’ve spent enough time with them to understand the complex, messy and often oppressive experience of being a woman in the United States,” said Collins. This decision could also be a way to show support to their wives’ lived experiences, she added.

And relationships don’t only soften hearts: Committed ones require a lot of flexibility, which might play a role in why more men in relationships appear to consider taking their significant other’s name, according to Ryon McDermott, a psychology professor at the University of South Alabama.

The Hill spoke with a handful of men married to women who chose to adopt their wife’s surname.

While their reasons for doing so were varied, there was an overarching theme of wanting to please their partner.

Andrew Kramer, 40, a pharmacist from St. Louis, describes himself as someone who is “not really big on social norms” if he doesn’t see a point to them.

So, when his now wife said she wanted to keep her last name, he found it exciting to push back against patriarchy.

Luke Miller, 28, announced that he was going to take his wife’s name a day before their wedding this past May. His wife Krystal has one sister who is married, and she wanted to keep her family name alive. 

Luke, having three brothers and a sister, was not so concerned with passing on his birth surname, Davis, to a new generation.

But what he did want was for him, his wife and their future children to share the same last name. 

In his opinion, having parents and children with the same last name just made things easier and hyphenating posed too many potential complications. 

Sharing a single name was also important to Mark Lepper, a 38-year-old graphic designer in Portland, Oregon.

Mark plans on taking his wife’s last name, Powell, in order to save her the hassle of changing her name for a third time after she’d previously done so in her prior marriage and then changed it back to her birth name after her divorce. 

“I didn’t want her to have to change her name again,” said Lepper.

But he told The Hill that he always thought it was strange when married couples would have different surnames.

Sharing a last name, to him, at least made it seem as if the couple was more committed to the relationship working. So, he offered to take his partner Cassandra’s last name. 

“It wasn’t even a discussion really. I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll take your last name, that’s rad,’” he said.

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