Friday, April 16, 2010

Changing Names

Jezebel has a featured post with a provocative title on a strange little study out of "the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research gave Dutch university students descriptions of women that were identical, except for the women's decision to take their husband's names." The university students thought the women who changed names were more feminine and caring and less ambitious and intelligent, among other things. In another set of hypotheticals, the Dutch students paid name changers less than their non-name-changing counterparts.

Since these were university students doing the assessment, I can't think of how this study is relevant. I don't believe an interviewer would ever ask a job candidate if she changed her name or that it would really effect someone's salary.

What's more interesting to me is the general flexibility women have with names. I know a couple of women who changed their names to their mother's maiden names in their late teens/early twenties. I know a women who had a really long, difficult, unpleasing surname, changed it twice with each marriage, and finally settled on her grandmother's maiden name which seems like it's really her name. I know several women who changed their names back to their maiden names after a divorce. (One was a professor, Wendy Doniger who, just before I got to the University of Chicago, dropped the O'Flaherty that she'd taken upon marriage. When I asked her about the name change one day she said something like, "Feh, it's been such a pain in the ass I wish I hadn't done it." That was almost twenty years ago; I wonder how she feels about it now?)

People remake themselves through their names. When being interviewed by Elvis Costello on Spectacle with....Elton John said (I'm paraphrasing here) that he just couldn't do what he wanted to do with the name Reginald Dwight. My friends who changed their names to their moms' maiden names felt burdened by the connection to their fathers, so they did away with it. Which is to say, we may think a little or a lot about the last names we have or that we give to our children. (See Marjorie Ingall on last names here.) But things change, people change, and names change for all kinds of reasons. Judging someone by the name they choose, once chose, or now use, well, I hate to state the painfully obvious, but it's just that whole book/cover judging thing. Someone should tell those Dutch students that the shouldn't really do it.

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