Why most women still take the name …

Since 2013, the year in which the possibility of a double name disappeared in Switzerland, spouses wishing to marry must either choose the surname of one or the other or retain their respective surnames. Mathematically, therefore, there is only one in three chances of choosing Monsieur’s last name for the couple.

But in 2018, in 70% of cases, in other words a large majority of situations, the woman decided to take the surname of her future husband, as highlighted by a study from Look. It was even 2% more than before the revision in 2013, which nevertheless aimed to allow better equality before marital status. Touch? Floated rather. And some recent studies on the issue paint an even more radical picture that even evokes 90% of couples who choose the male surname. A figure almost comparable to that of the 2000s or even 90s.

Admittedly, the 2013 law has seen the very limited number of women keep their maiden name multiplied by five, but among these gentlemen there is no rush to the gate to adopt the name of their lady: a small sample of only 2% dry. to take the plunge.

Desire for continuity

While the era has never been so feminist and thirsty for equality, these figures collide, of course. Because taking the husband’s name as a common surname for both spouses is symbolically not insignificant. “Marriage is a system that has historically originated in a patriarchal context, making the man the head of the family,” notes Clémentine Rossier, a professor at the Department of Demography and Socio-Economics at the University of Geneva.

This institution was a way of codifying the relationship between the sexes: to protect the women by the name of the man and to regulate the men who could not leave the home because of their responsibilities.

More tradition

But the Bronze Age is far behind us. So why do most women who get married still agree to hide behind their husband’s last name? “It was something that seemed to me to flow naturally,” says Laura, who married in 2017 as a 27-year-old. For me, getting married meant that I placed myself in the continuity of my parents and my grandparents, who also united with the man’s last name as their unique name. Deviating from it would have made me feel like it was a different wedding than the others. I also believe that as a woman we have been prepared for this for a long time, we know that our name can change over the course of our lives.

“People who go against marriage are generally more traditional than average, they are often a little more religious, a little more attached to conservative values,” points out French researcher Sandra Hoibian, director of the Evaluation and Society Pole at Crédoc (Center for Research). and observation of living conditions.) It may therefore seem logical that they more easily choose a choice that is also traditional, which has been a reflex for centuries.

submit or give consent

The explanation holds water, except that it may not be the only one. If the majority of brides actually adopt the male surname, it is different in people’s minds: According to sociological studies on the subject, about half of the women are not very convinced about this tradition. To put it more clearly: either they suffer it, or they consent to it without more conviction than that. Mylène, 48, remembers this situation well: “When my partner and I decided to get married after more than twenty years of relationship, I was surprised to see my bank send me new cards with my first name followed by my husband’s name., As if it was obvious that I had to give up my last name as a young man! I had not decided anything yet. But I ended up going with the flow, resigned.

“I do not think that the phenomenon of preference for men’s surnames is always a reflection of a certain conservatism among these women,” analyzes sociologist Nicky Le Feuvre, professor at the University of Lausanne. Among those who agree to give up their maiden name, there is an important part of the automatism, especially the administrative one, which can lead to believing that it will eventually be easier to change their name. Many people probably face a fait accompli and end up facing this situation, out of inertia. ”

Not necessarily feminist

Moreover, with this range of different options that the law offers, “we create an opportunity for choice where previously there was no possible discussion when we took the man’s last name, period, notes Sandra Hoibian, but it may seem easier to follow the tradition rather than entering into time-consuming debates. “In the researcher’s view, this acceptance is all the easier as women are more accustomed than men to compromises:” As in many areas, society demands that women be more adaptable, more flexible, just as they agree to lower their tariffs to take care of the children, juggle dress codes depending on the situation or here change their name ”.

The solidity of traditions and societal reflexes can also make attempts at resistance more complicated. There is possible family pressure not to deviate from commonly accepted norms, in light of a refusal to change one’s name, which may be disgusted by those around them, perceived as a kind of misplaced rebellion. “As long as you deviate from the norm as a woman, you have to explain yourself,” says Caroline Henchoz, a sociologist at the University of Friborg and at HES-SO Valais. It can be very tiring to keep going. ”

An invisible past

A woman’s act that does not want to take her husband’s name quickly turns into protest, for her part, Sandra Hoibian emphasizes:

“It may seem like something committed, while it may be a simple desire to restore equality, without necessarily a dimension of militant feminism behind it.”

Yet this administrative shift from one name to another, almost automatically in most cases, is rarely an anecdotal event. The surname is actually not just a set of letters: it conveys a whole identity, an experience. Leaving it can have something harsh, “as a kind of invisibility of its past, of its affiliation,” assesses Caroline Henchoz.

The sociologist emphasizes in passing that women on average spend more time with their maiden name than before: “They work, they have a whole social and professional journey behind them before they get married. Moreover, as we tend to get married later and later, changing our last name is probably more influential than before when we gave the ring on our finger as a 20-year-old.

Late reciprocity

Will a return to the possibility of double names, as proposed by the National Legal Affairs Commission, move the lines? Maybe not dramatic. Although it is regretted by some people who perceive it as a good compromise, the double surname was chosen by only 20% of the future wives before 2013. “This may be explained because it makes sense to have a single surname for both spouses, when you get married, it is often to create a family, and the surname helps to mark the group’s identity, a bit like a logo for a company, ”notes Clémentine Rossier. It is clear that in a more equal system, things would not go almost exclusively in the same direction, laments the demographer from the University of Geneva: “I find that the public debate focuses a lot on the question of keeping her name or taking it from her. women, while for men the possibility of taking their wife’s surname is not appreciated so much.

We see the same imbalance in work elsewhere: we encourage women to invest more in male disciplines without actually encouraging men to take over female disciplines.

Basically, this family name story remains one of the last bastions in everyday patriarchy. “We see that the legislature on this subject is finally ahead of social practice,” Nicky Le Feuvre points out, which is quite rare! “


“Choosing something other than the man’s name must be justified,” Coralie, 29

The preparation for our wedding went smoothly, with a whole year we had enough time ahead of us to anticipate everything. But in this logistics marathon, what we thought was just one detail proved to be one of the most complicated aspects to solve: the surname we had to decide to take in front of the officer with ‘civil status’. For my part, I did not particularly want to choose my future husband. I have never dreamed of a very classic wedding where one has to respect tons of codes to make it look like a real wedding.

I’m still quite a feminist at heart, and I found it completely anachronistic to be forced to give up his name for someone else who speaks to us no more than that. My, I found it beautiful, moreover, it was in danger of disappearing because as an only child I was the last in the family who could pass it on. My future husband quite agreed with me on the outdated side of this tradition and made the decision to take my last name, which he also found quite beautiful. He also told me that it was a kind of act of love and also a way to break the norms around masculinity.

It was here that the obstacles appeared. Since he was not Swiss, he asked and discovered that his country of origin did not allow a man to bear the name of his wife. He would thus have had my last name in his official Swiss papers, and the old one on his nationality papers. Not great for traveling, for example. The second barrier arose in his family: informed a few months before the wedding of this desire to call himself as me, his parents took the idea that their son would give up his birth name badly. There was a kind of unrest over this unusual event. It was perceived as a lack of consideration for his family. So we finally chose to keep our respective last names.

“Taking the man’s name was also easier for the kids,” Beatriz, 26

When my partner and I decided to get married, the question of surname was not a formality for us. Taking his name did not necessarily work automatically for us. In fact, we did not have very strong opinions on the subject. The reflections began as we approached the issue of children. We knew we would like to have some within a few years and we still had to ask ourselves what could be the most convenient on the last name page.

When the double name was no longer possible, we found that it could be a problem to start a family to keep everyone’s name.

Our children would not be called after their father or their mother, it was not possible for us, it seemed to open the way for a lot of complications for travel, or even to pick them up from school. And my husband did not really want his children to have a different name than his, he said he would feel a little separated.

For my part, I said to myself that it might be better for our children, for the sake of integration, in order not to experience discrimination, especially professionally, not to bear my name, which sounds foreign, whereas my future husband’s name sounded. very Swiss. I have been through such situations and I did not want my children to go through it. All of these considerations therefore led to a decision: I should take my husband’s last name. It was more of a practical choice than an ideological one.

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