It's Mrs., Not Ms.

In a return to tradition, more brides are taking their husband's name

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Married for the first time, in May at age 39, Chrystyna Garrigan, a skin-care consultant from Montclair, N.J., considers herself a pretty modern woman. Smart, independent and cheerfully unconventional, she did not spend her childhood planning the perfect wedding or dreaming of white picket fences.

So her decision to drop her Italian last name (Dattilo) and take her husband's was not made lightly. ("What am I, Irish now, after 40 years?" she jokes.) Part of her wanted to carry on the name of her father, who died two years ago, and stick with the identity she had worked so hard to establish. "But I really like the idea of honoring my husband, whom I love very much," she says. "It feels like I'm celebrating a nice tradition, and it makes us more like a family unit."

To the dismay of an older generation of feminists, more and more brides are making the same decision. According to a recent study by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, the number of college-educated brides keeping their birth names ("maiden" being a somewhat unrealistic descriptor) has been falling fast. Goldin drew her data from Massachusetts birth records, New York Times wedding announcements and information kept on Harvard alumnae. For example, 10 years after graduation, 44% of married women in the Harvard class of 1980 had kept their birth names. In the class of 1990, it was just 32%. An informal poll taken this spring by the Knot, a wedding website, supports Goldin's findings: 81% of poll respondents in its registry took their spouse's last name, up from 71% in 2000. Meanwhile, hyphenated surnames dropped from 21% to 8%.

Goldin offers three possible explanations for her findings: peer pressure among professional women to keep their names may have lessened, surname keeping is no longer seen as a symbol of support for women's equality, and the change may reflect a general shift toward more conservative social values in the U.S.

Goldin, who kept her name when she married in 1979, was inspired to do the study in part because her niece, a lawyer, changed hers. "She felt that her generation of women didn't have to do the same things mine did, because of what we had already achieved," Goldin says. "They would uphold all the ideals of gender equality but didn't have to proclaim it with their surname." In other words, women had come far enough that names didn't matter.

"Hogwash," says Morrison Bonpasse, executive director of the Lucy Stone League. (Stone, who married Henry Blackwell in 1855, is believed to be the first American woman to have kept her birth name after marriage.) "If you really think that there's equality, ask him to change his name." Alternatively, says Bonpasse, look at Hillary Rodham and Teresa Heinz, who adopted the names Clinton and Kerry only during their respective husbands' gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. If a wife who doesn't take her husband's name is a political liability, Bonpasse says, it's hard to believe the fight for gender equality has come far enough.

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