Where Are the Women — And Their Names?

It seems that as women yield corner offices to men, they are also giving up their names.

A new study finds that more college-educated women are adopting their husbands' surnames after marriage, reversing a three-decade-long trend toward more women keeping their own names.

Done by a Harvard economic historian, Claudia Goldin, and a former student of hers, Maria Shim, the study shows that the feminist movement in the late 1970s, which emboldened more women to reject tradition and keep their own names when married, has given way to a drift to more conservative social values.

Is it a coincidence that Fast Company senior writer Linda Tischler finds that women are under-represented in top executive positions? She says for the most part, men just compete harder than women. They put in more hours. They're more willing to relocate. They're more comfortable putting work ahead of personal commitments. And they just want the top job more. In other words, women have simply "opted out."

Interestingly, Fast Company columnist Shoshana Zuboff presents a different view in her column Career Taxidermy. She says highly trained women leaving work aren't opting out. Torn up by conflicts between motherly love, inflexible career structures, and substandard childcare, they're being "squeezed out" of organizations that have quietly but determinedly resisted their presence by not adapting to their needs.

Go back to the name-change study. Does it tell us something about how the system is resistant to changes favorable to women? Is it time for the feminist movement to receive a backlash, which has given women their (deserved) right to keep their names? Why is it always women who make the compromise?

Yes, you may very well say women have "opted" to change their names. But the study shows another reason for women to adopt their husbands' surnames is frustration with the logistical problems a husband and wife — particularly those with children — confront when using different names, especially when traveling. The system — the nuptial-nomenclature taxidermy — works against women.

In China, women rarely change their names when they marry. Children may adopt their father's name or their mother's. It's not uncommon for the first child to use the father's surname, and the second the mother's. They rarely have trouble when traveling together.

What is your take on the name-change trend?