Playwright, esthete, and bon vivant Oscar Wilde anticipated the recent attention to personal branding in his comment, “Names are everything.”
It is well-known that women who change their names at marriage are more difficult to find and connect to their pre-marriage professional track records of accomplishment, leading to possible “Brand Equity Risk,” and reduction in value of women’s “personal brand.”
A significant majority – 86 percent – changed their birth names to their husband’s surname, with just 14% choosing another option such as:
- Retaining their original name (<8%)
- Hyphenating both partners’ last names (6%)
- Creating a new surname, often from parts of each partner’s name
Just three years before, Indiana University’s Brian Powell and Laura Hamilton of University of California – Merced, found that that 15% fewer respondents – 71 percent of 815 survey participants – believed a woman should change her name at marriage, and half of those said it should be legally required.
This suggests that there is an increasing sentiment toward rebranding at marriage.
These changing preferences were chronicled by Harvard economist Claudia Goldin and former student Maria Shim when they reported that fewer college-educated women kept their names in 2004 than in the 1970s and 1980s, according to their evaluation of New York Times‘ marriage announcements, Massachusetts birth records and Harvard alumni records.
They noted that older brides and those who graduated from elite educational institutions has a greater likelihood of retaining their original names, as were those with occupations in the arts, writing and the media.
By the 2000s, 18 percent of women kept their original names, down from 23 percent a decade earlier, according to Baruch College’s Richard Kopelman, with Rita Shea-Van Fossen of Ramapo College, Eletherios Paraskevas, Sacred Heart University’s Leanna Lawter, and David Prottas of Adelphi University.
Wayne State University’s Ernest Abel and Michael Kruger echoed Goldin and Shim’s finding that older brides are more likely to retain their original “brand.”
They found that women who married between ages 35 and 39 were six times more likely to keep their original names than women who married when they were 20 to 24 years old in their analysis of 2575 wedding announcements in the New York Times.
However, in contrast to other findings, Abel and Kruger found that women who married in 2007–2008 were three times more likely to retain their birth names than those married in 1990–1991.
Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen College said that many of the women who changed their names in the 1970s did so as a counterpoint to marital inequality in obtaining credit, renting an apartment, owning real property and University of Florida’s Diana Boxer and Elena Gritsenko highlighted differing cross-cultural practices in their article Women and surnames across cultures: reconstituting identity in marriage.
Education, age, religious affiliation, cultural traditions, and sentiment seem to over-ride typical advice for building a brand: Repeated exposure to a consistent message over time.
Brand strategists typically consider threats to corporate brand value, and experts in personal branding may want to quantify the financial impact of women’s rebranding at marriage or not rebranding after dissolution.
-*What are the benefits to personal brand value of keeping or changing original names?
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