Imagine a piece of furniture, part cupboard, part chest of drawers — decorated with patterns of hearts, pinwheels, and intricate floral imagery — emblazoned on the front in large, bold letters the name H-A-N-N-A-H  B-A-R-N-A-R-D. This chest belonged to somebody, it’s ownership screaming out from the colorful images around it, assuring a sort of immortality of the person who once owned it and whose name is ever visible on its front. This boldly constructed, colorfully decorated cupboard with the name Hannah Barnard emblazoned across the front was made in 1715 in Hadley, Massachusetts. The cupboard, and other pieces of furniture like it, were familiar to early American furniture aficionados and experts but in 1992 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote “Hannah Barnard’s Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth Century New England” and brought the chest to a wider audience. Ulrich formed new ways of exploring the interconnectedness of material objects and cultural history by tracing the cupboard’s physical history but also the social context. She showed how, in a world that she describes as “where Indians, witches and illness lurked” around every corner, a woman who under the laws of coverture essentially belonged to her fathers and then her husbands house, proudly put her name on this chest which eventually traveled down through her family for generations.

Listen, download, watch on YouTube, or scroll down for the transcript.

What’s In a Name? : North American Naming Conventions and the “Death” of Patrilineal Lines

Written and Researched by Elizabeth Garner Masarik

Produced by Elizabeth Garner Masarik and Averill Earls, PhD

Elizabeth: Imagine a piece of furniture, part cupboard, part chest of drawers — decorated with patterns of hearts, pinwheels, and intricate floral imagery — emblazoned on the front in large, bold letters the name H-A-N-N-A-H  B-A-R-N-A-R-D. This chest belonged to somebody, it’s ownership screaming out from the colorful images around it, assuring a sort of immortality of the person who once owned it and whose name is ever visible on its front.

Averill: This boldly constructed, colorfully decorated cupboard with the name Hannah Barnard emblazoned across the front was made in 1715 in Hadley, Massachusetts. The cupboard, and other pieces of furniture like it, were familiar to early American furniture aficionados and experts but in 1992 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote “Hannah Barnard’s Cupboard: Female Property and Identity in Eighteenth Century New England” and brought the chest to a wider audience. Ulrich formed new ways of exploring the interconnectedness of material objects and cultural history by tracing the cupboard’s physical history but also the social context. She showed  how, in a world that she describes as “where Indians, witches and illness lurked” around every corner, a woman who under the laws of coverture essentially belonged to her fathers and then her husbands house, proudly put her name on this chest which eventually traveled down through her family for generations.

Hannah Barnards Cupboard
The Henry Ford Museum

Elizabeth: In this series we are shilling for Sarah’s new book, Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North, which explores the effects that the Civil War had on broader understandings of disability and manhood in America during the nineteenth century. Because we love and support Sarah, and we want you to go out and buy her book RIGHT NOW, we are doing this series on “manhood.” Each of our episodes explores masculinity in some way. So — how does a brightly decorated chest from colonial America tie in to understandings about manhood and masculinity? Find out in this episode of Dig.

I’m Elizabeth

And I’m Averill

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Averill: What role did “marking” play in the “movable” arts made for or by Colonial American women? Names are meaningful, to individuals, to families, as markers of who we are, where we’re from, even what we do. The surname Schumacher means, somewhere in the past, those folks ancestor made shoes. A name like O’Connor means you’re from the family or clan of Connor. All of this was true for colonial era women, as much as it is for us today. But as anyone who has had to or chosen to change their name knows, it can also be an important signifier of a major life change or upheaval. Name changes outside of marriage, as Margaret Randall argues, are and were often an act of radical and cultural domination. For example, she notes, “Under the Nazi name decrees of the 1930s. Jews were required to add Sarah (for females) or Israel (for males) to their names. Immigrants to this country have been renamed due to the carelessness of clerks. Slaves in the U.S. were often named and renamed by the whites who legally owned them.” But a name is also just a name, right? A rose by any other name, and all that jazz.

Elizabeth: I’ll be honest, I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for this series. In actuality I just wasn’t feeling it. You see, each episode we produce is written and researched by one person and then we record with two of us. Sarah, Ave and Marissa were all bouncing around these really cool topic ideas, and I just had nothing. Now bear with me because it may seem like I’m rambling, but I promise I will come around to my point. While we’ve been brainstorming ideas for this series I’ve been dealing with a lot of issues in my personal life. My father had stage four cancer and throughout the month was in and out of the hospital. When he came home and began hospice care I flew to Texas to be with him and help my mom. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t on the podcast. Throughout those few weeks, we went through some tough times but it also gave me a lot of time to sit, and think, and step away from my day to day life. I began to contemplate something that I’d heard numerous times throughout my life and was now coming to fruition — my father’s line, my father’s name — was dying out. His siblings either did not have children or they died without offspring. My mother and father had daughters. My sister and I were the last children of our line with his name. I began to think about what that meant. I didn’t feel like his line had died out. I see my father in my son and daughter every day. But what is in a name? My children don’t have my father’s name or my birthname. My mother does not have her birthname. Is that line dead? What about my paternal grandfather’s line? Is that dead too? I began to think about what it means in this 21st century era of third wave feminism that still 80-90 percent of married women in North America do not keep their birthname? Of course I’d thought about it before, but it wasn’t until my father’s death that I really felt it. And then I remembered Ulrich’s chapter about Hannah Barnard’s cupboard; about a piece of eighteenth century folk art that immortalized a woman’s birthname for centuries after she passed. And so patient listeners, I thought we’d explore Hannah Barnard’s cupboard, what it meant that she emblazoned her name on her furniture, and what does that have to do with common naming conventions in 21st century America.

Averill: Don’t you love how we come up with episode ideas? Everything has a history.

Elizabeth: Word.

Averill: So, Hannah Barnard’s cupboard… when Laurel Thatcher Ulrich began researching this chest, what immediately stuck out to her was this giant name across the front of it. Now listeners, I suggest you head to our blog to see pictures of this amazing piece. Also, just a quick google search will take you to images. The chest is currently housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Their website has some nice detailed close-ups of the chest. Ulrich began asking what this name meant. She wrote, “Were the words on the cupboard idiosyncratic or representative of some larger pattern in early American culture? Combined with vines and flowers, were they symbols of fertility, assertions of self, markers of one woman’s command of her household goods, or emblems of everywoman’s subordination to domestic duty? Or were they merely design conventions or expressions of style? At the most basic level, I wanted to know what the cupboard could tell me about property. In a world where most forms of wealth were controlled by male heads of household, were certain objects in fact owned by women?” The colorful hearts, petal flowers, vines, and half-circles on Hannah’s cupboard are characteristic of a number of “Hadley-chests” made around Hadley, Massachusetts during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Hadley chests began to get some buzz in 1883 when a Hartford banker spoke about an antique chest he had found on a summer excursion and called it his “Hadley chest.” There are about sixteen identified variants of the Hadley chest style, made in Hadley and nearby Hampshire County towns from the 1680s to about 1730. Some of these chests have drawers while others do not. Most are marked with initials or a name that genealogists have been able to link many to young women born in nearby towns. Only 8 of the more than 120 marked chests have complete names and all were made for women with one exception, the rest have initials.

Elizabeth: However it is not just these Hadley chests that bore women’s names. Many material objects from the period have women’s names and initials on them, such as pewter cups and textiles, showing as Ulrich argues that “colonial women, too, found ways to assert themselves.” And also just a disclaimer, we are talking about a small set of English women here. Women who were English colonists, adhering to the culture of their time. Contemporaneous Native American women had their own ways of “marking” belongings and claiming family, as did African women brought to the North American continent. Other ethnic groups that traveled to North America had their own naming customs as well.

Averill: The ornately carved and painted Hadley chests were distinctive to the region. Furniture collectors and historians have explored many aspects of their design and use but until Ulrich used gender as a lens of which to study them, had anyone taken full notice of the fact that the initials so prominently displayed on these artifacts belonged not to their maker or possibly even their buyer, but to the women who used, acquired, and bequeathed them. Even Ulrich herself was surprised to find such a fascinating piece of woodwork, writing, “I thought of wood and things made of wood as belonging to the male domain. Hannah Barnard’s cupboard took me by surprise.”

Elizabeth: Hannah Barnard was born on June 8, 1684, the second daughter of Samuel and Mary, in Hadley, Massachusetts. Just for a bit of context, she was born eight years before the Salem witch trials. In fact, like most New England towns, Hadley also had its share of accused witches but thankfully none were sent to the gallows. Queen Anne’s War, the second in a series of French and Indian wars fought between England and France, brought death and fear to the region Hannah grew up in.  An uprising known as the Raid on Deerfield, or more commonly known as the Deerfield Massacre, took place on February 29, 1704. The French and local Indian forces attacked the nearby English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts. They burned much of the town, killed 47 villagers, and took 112 settlers captive to Canada.  60 of the villagers eventually made it back. One of those was a soldier named John Marsh, who Hannah married roughly ten years later.

Averill: Hannah was thirty or thirty-one when she married John Marsh. She was his second wife, as his first wife had died a few years before. Thirty-one was a bit older than most women married at the time, but not unheard of. Sometime between 1710 and 1715, so between the ages of 26 and 31, Hannah’s cupboard was made, complete with the decorations and her birthname scrolled on it. No one is sure who commissioned the piece. Did Hannah request that her name be on it? Was it a gift from her father? From her future husband? Did she commission it herself? Regardless, even after Hannah Barnard became Hannah Marsh, her Barnard cupboard had a place in her home, holding precious linens and textiles. Ulrich traced this through probate records. In Massachusetts, as in much of the English-speaking world, “cupboards and chests, like the textiles, ceramics, and silver they were designed to store, belonged to that category of property known as ‘movables.’” English law dictated that sons received buildings and land while daughters received a combination of household goods, animals, and sometimes slaves or servants. Although both male and female descendents received possessions from their forbearers, males and females were treated differently under the law. For example, when John Billings of Hatfield died unmarried, the court divided his worldly possessions among his siblings “in Equall and proportion, the said Brothers to have all the Lands Equallie divided to them and the said Sarah to have her share in the Moveable goods.”

Elizabeth: Hannah died only a year after getting married, while giving birth to a daughter named Abigail who survived. John Marsh married a third time and had four more children. He died in 1725 while in his 40s. His will gave his two year old son with his third wife all of his real estate. Marsh’s will and inventory show that within the household goods known as “moveables,” certain items were designated to female lineages, both figuratively or in the case of Hannah’s cupboard, literally. The inventory lists household goods within a general list and under the subtitles: “3d Wives Goods” and “2d Wives Goods.” Hannah’s list included a “flowered Chest” valued at thirty two shillings, which presumably is the cupboard now housed at the Ford museum. Hannah’s daughter Abigail Marsh inherited her mother’s cupboard. When she had a daughter with her husband Waitstill Hastings in 1742, they named her Hannah Barnard Hastings. Ulrich points out that middle names during this time were extremely rare, so this was indeed an instance of honoring the baby’s’ grandmother, whose chest probably held a prominent place in their house. Hannah Barnard Hastings married Nathaniel Kellogg in 1769. She had a daughter who she named Hannah Barnard, after her grandmother and herself. This third Hannah died in 1787, but in 1817 her brother honored both his sister and his mother by naming a daughter Hannah Barnard Hastings Kellogg. Presumably the cupboard passed along with the name, carrying on one woman’s identity for more than one hundred years.

Averill: Following a line of descent from mother to daughter to granddaughter in Western genealogical patrilineal descent is extremely difficult. Within Hannah Barnard’s family, the names of all eight of Hannah’s great-great-grandfathers survive but only three of her great-great-grandmothers have complete names and two are simply “unknown.” It is possible that without the cupboard and the tradition of naming girls Hannah in the family, Hannah Barnard Hastings Kellog might not have known her great grandmother’s name at all. However, as evidenced by her long name, including a female name in lineage means that a chain of last names that grows with each passing generation is tacked on the end of a woman’s name. Tracing families is also difficult because during colonial times daughters typically received their portions of family wealth at marriage and not at the death of their father. Therefore wills and inventories do not fully show what moved from one generation to another. Moveables essentially traveled outside of visible law, as deeds and surveys can show land ownership. Not so much for tablecloths and chests. Ulrich reminds us that “inscriptions on ordinary utilitarian objects bespeak not comradeship, but ownership.” Ownership could look much different for women than for men. Hannah’s cupboard status as ”movable” property — the usual inheritance of women– yet emblazoned with her name, enabled future generations to mark a ”female line.”

Elizabeth: Kinship is reckoned in a number of different ways around the world, resulting in a variety of types of descent patterns and kin groups. Western genealogy is often referred to as patrilineal descent because children typically take the father’s name. However, that’s a bit of a misnomer as true patrilineal and matrilineal descent means that descent is only through a single line of ancestors, male or female. Both males and females are members of a unilineal family, but descent links are only recognized through relatives of one gender, male in patrilineal and female in matrilineal. For example, in societies using matrilineal descent, the social relationship between children and their biological father is subsumed by their mother’s brother. The man who would have the formal responsibilities that European cultures assign to a father would be a child’s mother’s brother since he is the closest elder male kinsmen in the matrilineal line. The biological father belongs to a different matrilineal line. In the Ashanti Kingdom of Central Ghana, a king traditionally passes his title and status on to his sister’s son.  A king’s own biological son does not inherit the kingship because he is not a member of the ruling matrilineal family group.  So, men are ruling but through matrilineal descent lines. Roughly 40% of the earth’s cultures trace descent through both the mother’s and the father’s ancestors to some degree. These are called nonunilineal or cognatic descent patterns and have roughly four variations. Eurpean cultures use one of these variations, called bilateral descent, which traces descent from all biological ancestors regardless of their gender. All male and female children are members of both their father’s and mother’s families but the male’s name is typically used by his wife and children.

Averill: Bilateral descent groups tend to be more short term than unilineal ones. Beyond the nuclear family, there usually only exists a kindred or group of relatives linked by a single individual through marriage. When an individual dies or is divorced, the kindred that was focused on him or her is altered significantly or may even cease existing. Essentially, a family or kindred has to really work hard to stick together, so to speak. The Kennedy family is a good example. Members of this well known, politically active family has included a U.S. President and several Senators, still considers themselves to be a large closely related kindred despite the fact that Joe Kennedy, the family founder, died in 1969 and many of the Kennedy kindred do not have the Kennedy name. Now Star Lord, or you may know him as Andy from Parks and Rec, Chris Pratt, is now considered a Kennedy because he married Katherine Shwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger’s mother is Maria Shriver. Shriver’s mother was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s sister. Whew! That’s some genealogical gymnastics but also shows a) how easy it is to loose the maternal line if you are only following names and b) how keeping a bilateral descent group close requires some extreme effort.

Chris Pratt is now a Kennedy
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: This is making me want to label everything of value in my house with my name splashed across it! Maybe someone will remember me….

In her studies of eighteenth-century New England material culture, Ulrich reminds us of the often-complex ways in which names, objects and property came to be inherited in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Women like Hannah Barnard and her descendants were able to establish matrilineal descent through bequeathing a cupboard bearing Hannah’s maiden name. So what about today? What’s in a name?

Seventy-two percent of adults polled in a 2011 study said they believe a woman should give up her maiden name when she gets married, and half of those who responded said they believe that it should be a legal requirement, not a choice. Figures from several recent studies suggest that today between 80 and 90 percent of marrying women take the husband’s name in some form. About 25% of those women bump their birthname, or maiden name, to their middle name and then take their husbands name as their last. And I just learned that’s more prevalent in the South, which I had no idea that was the case. That’s what my mother did, and that’s what I did, and we’re southern so… I don’t know. I don’t have direct numbers on that.

Averill: How did the “common” naming practices practiced in North American come to be? This history of women’s marital surnames in the U.S. is a story of social custom influencing law, influencing social custom. Legal scholar Elizabeth Emens explored the strange journey of how it became a legal issue to take a husband’s name, and then how that changed into a social norm. She points out that in common law in the U.S. as in England, both women and men were free to change their surnames through common usage, subject to certain exemptions for fraud. Generally, up until the eleventh century first names were generally the only names used for individuals. Surnames began becoming more popular in the eleventh century, in order to differentiate the many people with the same first names. This practice became more common through the following three centuries until most Europeans had surnames by the sixteenth century. Surnames typically conveyed some kind of information about the bearer like occupation, or place of origin.

Elizabeth: In European feudal times, occasionally gentry surpassed gender. Often, when a couple joined together, they would take the more powerful surname. But, as property became more and more scarce, women became less and less likely to inherit land. Historian Stephanie Coontz argues that once women could offer only movable goods as de facto dowry “the paternal line became much more emphasized.” English common law established coverture, meaning that a woman became legally “covered” by her husband at marriage. Please have a listen to Marissa’s episode on coverture for a deep dive into that whole pile of worms. For married women, who were treated under coverture as legally subsumed by their husbands’ identity, bearing his surname was typically the most informative moniker. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, American women typically changed their names to their husbands’ as a matter of custom, not law.

Averill: Custom became law by a series of cases in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. These cases built precedent upon precedent until many states had plainly declared in case law or by statute that married women’s ability to engage legally in certain activities- such as driving or voting- was dependent on her bearing her husband’s name. For example, in 1879, when Boston women were granted the franchise in school elections, feminist Lucy Stone registered to vote but officials notified her that she would not be allowed to vote unless she added “Blackwell” to her signature. She did not, and was not allowed to vote in that election. The foundational case that set precedent for making it practically mandatory for a woman to change her name to her husbands came from an 1881 New York decision in Chapman v Phoenix National Bank. This case actually dealt with wartime seizures of property during the Civil War. The court ruled against the confiscation because the notice of forfeiture was listed in the married women’s maiden name – who on earth would know who she was!?! 

Elizabeth: Other cases in Texas in 1890 and Massachusetts in 1926, among many others, further entrenched the legal mandate of taking the husbands name. State and federal rulings were based off of the Chapman dicta. In 1934 the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that a woman could not be naturalized in her birthname, but must be naturalized in her married name. In a 1945 Illinois case, Rago v Lipsky, the court ruled in favor of a state statute that a woman’s voter registration in her maiden name is automatically cancelled upon marriage, and that she must re-register in her married name in order to vote. In an Alabama case, the court ruled that the state’s unwritten regulation requiring married women to obtain drivers licenses in their husband’s names, and the state’s common law rule that a woman’s name automatically changes to her husband’s at marriage, both had a rational basis particularly because she can apply for a name change through probate court (so the harm to her is de mimimis), or not a “burden,” therefore legal. Hawaii was the only state to have a law that actually stated a woman had to change her name upon marriage.

Averill: The arguments for and against making it mandatory for women to take their husband’s name-  making men’s surnames pass from generation to generation and women’s surnames disappear — were articulated to great lengths during the 1970s and 80s. We’ll go over some of those in a second. I think you’ll notice however that in the 40 years hence, many of the same arguments and issues are front and center in the decisions made about changing or keeping one’s name today. As one commentator wrote in the heyday of the lawsuits that stopped the practice of forcing women to change their names to their husbands, “Sure it smacks of discrimination to require that a woman assume her husband’s surname upon marriage and that the children she bears also go by her husband’s name. But it is tidy. In a culture that developed as a male-dominated society, it was natural that the family name follow the male line of descent… [W]hy don’t we leave well enough alone…?”[1]

Lucy Stone
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: Right…. So essentially just shut up and don’t think about it too much right? But here’s something to think about. Morrison Bonpasse, the former Executive Director of the Lucy Stone League, brought up this point when arguing against the tradition of a woman taking her husbands name, “Suppose we had a tradition that when blacks married whites, the white name was always the name used by the family… If you really think that their is equality [in the choice for a woman to keep or change her name] ask him to change his name.”[2]

Averill: It wasn’t until the 1970s that these precedents started to be overturned. In the 1975 Tennessee case, Dunn v Palermo, the Supreme Court of Tennessee struck down a state law requiring a married woman to register to vote under her husband’s name. The court wrote, “Married women have labored under a form of societal compulsion and economic coercion which has not been conducive to the assertion of some rights and privileges of citizenship.”[3]

Under U.S. law today, women and same sex couples choose what to do with their names at marriage. Now states make keeping a woman’s name, her maiden name so to speak, the legal default. But this issue of choice is a complicated one. Overwhelmingly it’s a women’s choice. The burden of choice is rarely put on a man. Although there are some men who are taking their wives or husband’s last name, this number is still quite small. Same sex male couples are faced with this choice a bit more, but more often than not both parties keep their birthname. For women and same sex couples they are faced with a choice: keep their birthname, hyphenate their name, blend their name… Women potentially have even more of a change. Men’s prefixes to their names don’t change through marriage. They are always Mr. whether single or married. While women may go through Miss, Ms. and Mrs.

Elizabeth: However, choice in the realm of keeping or changing names is still skewed towards taking the husbands name. This is because states make any other name change other than becoming Mrs. His Name, more difficult by placing additional administrative burdens on unconventional marital name changes. Additionally, there are just a lot of choices to be made.

A woman can decide to keep her birthname, or she can hyphenate her name and share one part of her name with her family and past self and another part with her husband and children, while her husband has the same name as his parents and his children and thus continuity across three generations. Children also bring more questions and decisions to be made. Whose name will they take? If they have a hyphenated name too, what happens if they marry another person with a hyphenated name? Etc.

Averill: Even though keeping a name is the legal default, still today most men never change their names, and since children typically take their father’s name even when their mother makes an unconventional naming choice for herself, women lack a naming option that creates continuity among their parents, their spouses, and their children. So even though it is now the default for when a woman marries, she keeps her maiden name, the majority of North American and western European women – 80 – 90% – still change their name to their husbands. Law scholar Elizabeth Emens addresses this disparity by highlighting how states help frame a woman’s choices through administrative burdens and also what she calls desk clerk law. States not only determine which options are easier than others, ie blending two peoples last names vs just taking the husband’s name, states also determine how to ask the questions or frame the questions as to how one wants to go about changing or keeping their name. For example, in 1985 New York State passed a law that requires marriage license applications to inform the parties that either can change their name, that neither must change their name, and that a wide range of naming options are available, such as hyphenation, blending, or choosing a new name entirely. Most states do not make this so apparent when filling out marriage licenses. Additionally, as Emens found out by calling county clerk offices all over the country, it really depended on who answered the phone as to what kind of useful information a person inquiring about a name change would receive. When posing the question, could the husband change his surname to his wives, Emens got answers ranging from sure no problem to “oh honey, you don’t want to do that..” to “I guess? Men don’t really change their names to their wives’…”

Elizabeth: So where does that leave our discussion? With at least 80% of heterosexual married couples in the United States still going with the husband’s name alone, how do we contextualize this phenomenon. And if you ask ten different people, you’re going to get ten different answers ranging from “it’s just more convenient,” to taking a husband’s name “shows him that you really love him,” to “it’s what my mother did so I did the same,” to everything in between. It is interesting too because studies show that in the late 1970s and the 80s more women chose unconventional naming practices for themselves and then in the mid 1990s the trend began moving the other way well into the 2000s. Although there seems to be a slight uptick in unconventional naming choices, it has not reached the levels of the 1980s. Are we more romantic than we once were? Are we yearning for some bygone era? Do women just not care anymore? As one woman commented in 2007, “I just didn’t see taking my husband’s name as a big issue…As the Marines would say, ‘Soldier, is this the hill you want to die on?’ For me the answer is no.” Emens would argue it’s easier to take the husband’s name, because it’s the “norm.” That the administrative state perpetuates it by making it easier to change to your husband’s last name as opposed to hyphenating or blending a name, even as keeping is the default.

Averill: These issues of family and continuity and potential children affect all family formations. Yet some couples that never considered changing their names when entering marriage reconsider the issue when contemplating the possibility of having kids. A 2015 Vogue article asked same-sex couples how they handeled the question of names and family legacy. One woman who adopted her wife’s surname back in 2007 explained it this way, “The real impetus to changing my name was knowing we were going to have children, and we wanted them to feel part of one family and not have different names.” A professional journalist was against changing his name for professional reasons but wanted his children to have an easier name growing up than he did. “Having been saddled with an unpronounceable name, I wouldn’t want to put my kids through that,” he said. “My husband’s name is Barrett, so I think we would probably go with that.”

Elizabeth: Yet this still doesn’t address the gender imbalance of name changes. On a whole, women change their names at vastly higher rates than men, whether in heterosexual or same sex marriages. Yet questioning the status quo brings up many of the same arguments today that were bandied around in the 1970s and 80s. In fact, the comment section of a recent Market Watch article about women keeping their last name show that this is still a pretty hot topic. I know, NEVER READ THE COMMENTS! I took one for the team ya’ll. Why is it that the only people who comment on online articles are angry men? UGHHHHHH

Averill: To bring it back around to Ulrich, Hannah Barnard’s cupboard, and my original question posed, that for a father to have only girls, it means his family somehow dies out Wethink Ulrich sums it up best in her explanation of family. “Families are social constructions, made and remade over time. Family identities, like personal identities, are built from selective fragments of the past – names, stories, and material objects.” Marked objects like Hannah Barnard’s cupboard “assert[ed] an expansive, almost fluid, notion of family that undercuts simple notions of patrilineal or matrilineal descent.” “In a legal system that required the subordination of women, one might imagine a female identity that was inherently fragile and derivative, shaped though attachment to others rather than assertion of self. Yet, ironically, the force of patriarchy might have encouraged certain women to develop a more complex and in some ways autonomous sense of self than their brothers or sons. Never able to step into a ready-made identity, they learned to mediate between a family of origin and one or more families of marriage.”

Elizabeth: Journalist Lynn Harris, who kept her name professionally but legally moved her birthname to her middle name and took her husband’s last name wrote, “If you think my principles, my convictions, my very identity, can be erased in the blink of a “Harris,” then Lucy Stone really did bust her ass for nothing.”

Sources and Further Reading:

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of the American Myth, (New York: Vintage Books), 2002.

Claudia Goldin, Maria Shim, “Making a Name: Women’s Surnames at Marriage and Beyond,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2004, pp 143-160.

Elizabeth Emens “Name Changing: Framing Rules and the Future of Marital Names,” The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 761-863

Rachael D. Robnett, Marielle Wertheimer, Harriet R. Tenenbaum, “Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband? An Analysis Focusing on Gender-Typed Traits and Relationship Power Dynamics,” Sex Roles, A Journal of Research, July 2018, Volume 79, Issue 1-2, pp 59-71.

Court Cupboard, Owned by Hannah Barnard, 1710-1720, Henry Ford Museum

“Remember Me”: Six Samplers in the National Archives

Lynn Harris, “Mrs. Feminist,”

Jillian Berman, “Why So Many Women Still Take Their Husband’s Last Name,”

Patricia Garcia, “In a Same-Sex Marriage, Who Gets to Keep Their Name?,”

Descent Lines:


[1] “What to Call What’s-His-Name,” Virginian-Pilot A10 (Jan. 5, 1981), quoted in Elizabeth Emens “Name Changing: Framing Rules and the Future of Marital Names,” The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 761-863.

[2] Quoted in Elizabeth Emens “Name Changing: Framing Rules and the Future of Marital Names,” The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Summer 2007), pp. 761-863.

[3] 522 SW2d 679 (Tenn 1975), quoted in Emens, 2007.


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