Comment: Why women taking their husband’s name could be about biology

I’m somewhat interested in the topic, but I’m actually posting about this because my freshman writing students are now in the process of gathering sources for their research paper. I have to train them to ignore reader-friendly science journalism like this, and instead engage directly with the academic source this reporter is summarizing. That’s a daunting task, especially for a college freshman who is still adjusting to learning from college-level textbooks (which also simplify expert research, just not as much as a general-interest news reporter would).

Pro tip: most of us can safely ignore any news story that includes “could be” in the headline.

Throughout the English-speaking world, most women choose not to retain their surnames after marriage. And children are typically given their father’s surname. This practice inconveniences women. It potentially reinforces gender roles and the unequal status of women and men within marriage and society. | The University of Western Ontario’s Melanie MacEacheron argues that women changing their surname acts as a signal of fidelity to their husbands.This enhances the likelihood that both the father and the paternal grandparents will invest in the children of these marriages. Enhanced investment then confers an evolutionary advantage on children by providing them with survival and reproductive benefits.

This pleasing of husbands and in-laws is potentially at odds with pleasing maternal grandparents, who are also an important source of investment in children. However, a woman can always be certain that the child she gives birth to is hers. Therefore, the child’s maternal grandmother can be also certain that her grandchild is hers.

A man does not have the same degree of assurance of his paternity. The maternal grandfather can only be certain his grandchild is his if he is certain that his wife was faithful to him. —SBS

4 thoughts on “Comment: Why women taking their husband’s name could be about biology

  1. Bless you for working with your students to look at original research sources. This will help them so much their entire lives.

  2. A topic close to my heart. 23 years ago, my darling husband took my last name when we married, the first in Virginia to ever do so. The whys are less important than the why nots? I no more belong to him than he to me. Our children are ours and not his. Our joint name is a name. The hardest part? Putting it in the genealogy programs.

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