When Tracey Taylor married Terry Perles, she wanted to honor her unity with her new husband but didn’t want to dump her last name, either. And hyphenating her last name seemed cumbersome, so she adopted a new middle name and became Tracey Taylor Perles.
“For me, I did not want to lose my identity of my last name,” the Upper St. Clair resident says. “Having a last name of Taylor is a very nice name to have, and I just didn’t want to lose it. There’s this weird thing when you get married, and all of sudden, you’re this new name. My married name tripped over my tongue.
“I had created a reputation associated with (Taylor), and I wasn’t ready to start everything with a clean slate,” says Perles, 52, who runs Taylor Perles Communications and has done some acting. “It was a good way to keep some of my previous identity.”
Forget hyphenating if you want to keep your maiden name: An estimated 1.5 to 6 percent of brides do that these days. Brides who combine their maiden names with their husbands’ names are much more likely to make their maiden names their new middle names, which an estimated 25 percent of American women do, says Laurie Scheuble, a sociology senior lecturer at Pennsylvania State University. She and her husband — Penn State sociology professor David Johnson — have researched the topic of marital naming during the past two decades.
Women living in the Northeast and South are more likely to make their maiden names their middle names when they marry, because families in these regions tend to be less mobile compared to Western families, Scheuble says.
When a woman’s family has lived in an area for many generations, she has an investment in that name, yet she doesn’t want to buck tradition and reject her husband’s surname, Scheuble says.
High-profile, educated professionals — particularly doctors, professors and writers — are much more likely not to dump their maiden names when they marry, also because of the name recognition and investment. And any woman who dumps her maiden name can seemingly disappear, making her difficult to find via means such as Facebook, directories and the like, says Scheuble, who often gets reference calls about former students who have since married, and she doesn’t know the name.
“Women feel then, while they’re being normative and appropriate while taking their husband’s last name, they still have that tie to their family,” she says.
Many famous women have made their maiden names their middle names: politician Hillary Rodham Clinton and pioneering feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for instance. Still, the vast majority of women — about 90 percent — take their husband’s last name, whether they also keep their maiden names as their middle names, Scheuble says.
“It’s more common to completely take your husband’s name and drop your birth name. … It’s the norm of all norms,” Scheuble says.
According to TheKnot.com‘s most recent statistics compiled in 2010, 86 percent of brides took their husbands’ last names, 6 percent hyphenated, and 8 percent fully kept their own last names. Although the figures don’t specify how many of the brides taking their husbands’ names adopted their maiden names as their new middles, TheKnot.com’s editor Jamie Miles says the practice has become more common in recent years.
“The majority of brides are still taking their husbands’ last names, but I would imagine … that if we were to break it down, it would be a fairly common thing,” she says. “It’s a great option for a girl who wants to retain the tradition of taking his name while maintaining her name in some form,” Miles says.
While many women adopt their maiden and married names legally, others do this more informally so that people are better able to find them on places like Facebook, she says.
A woman’s parents might feel hurt and disappointed if she abandons her family name, particularly if she has no brothers to carry on the family name, Miles says. On the other hand, a husband and in-laws might feel hurt if the bride rejects her married name. And sharing a last name with a spouse can signify this new life stage as a couple, she says.
“It’s obviously a personal decision that you have to make,” Miles says.
A Tarentum woman, Dorothy Saracco Shane, initially hyphenated her name when she got married in 1991 — but her husband said it looked like she was waiting to divorce him and found the name combination annoying. Shane, 51, later dropped the hyphen and made Saracco her middle name, and she is glad she kept her original surname in her name, because she had established herself in a career and it was well-known name.
Sherry Schilling of Bellevue, originally Sherry Baker, hyphenated her name to Baker-Johnston when she first got married in her 20s. She has two sisters and no brothers.
“I figured I really, really wanted to hang on to my name because of my parents. … I didn’t want to forget my name … and where I came from,” says Schilling, 51. She became a widow, remarried, and now just goes by her husband Joseph’s last name.
Some women took their maiden names as their middle names long before it was a trend. Carole Thompson Fisher, 72, of Greensburg, got married in 1966, and wanted to keep her name because her mother had a miscarriage with a boy, and no one would carry on the family name. Her late husband, Richard, had no problem with her decision.
“I’d only had the Thompson name for 25 years,” Fisher says. “I was very proud of it.”
Elsie Mellon Kowasic, 74, also got married in 1966, and made her last name her middle name. Having a Mellon name in Pittsburgh had benefits, she says.
“I like being a Mellon,” says Kowasic, whose husband’s name is George. They live in Fayette City, Fayette County. “I got a better seat everywhere.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7824.