Identity and naming practices in British marriage and civil partnerships


  • Lucy Jones University of Nottingham
  • Sara Mills Sheffield Hallam University
  • Laura L. Paterson Open University
  • Georgina Turner University of Liverpool
  • Laura Coffey-Glover Nottingham Trent University



marriage, surnames, heteronormativity, naming, feminism


This article demonstrates the continued prevalence of traditional, heteronormative practices regarding marriage and naming practices, and also considers the complex choices made by same-sex couples who marry in relation to whether there are any benefits in changing their surname. The study draws on data from an online survey of 1,000 respondents, and reveals that it continues to be viewed as more ‘normal’ for a woman to take her husband’s surname in a heterosexual union than for her to make any other choice. Whilst other options (such as the woman retaining the surname given to her by her parents, for instance) are often considered in relation to heterosexual marriage, these continue to be seen as a deviation from the norm. We find that the role of tradition is critical to heterosexual women’s decisions over what to do with their surname, whether they follow the culturally expected route or consciously deviate from it. Same-sex couples are broadly perceived to have comparably more freedom than heterosexuals regarding their names, and here we analyse whether this is the case. Through qualitative critical analysis of the discursive responses of those completing our survey, and some quantitative discussion of the data, we demonstrate that heteronormative assumptions about a woman’s role in a heterosexual relationship have continued salience and that this leads to a conscious and often difficult negotiation of her own identity as both an individual and a wife.

Author Biographies

  • Lucy Jones, University of Nottingham

    Lucy Jones is an assistant professor in sociolinguistics at the University of Nottingham. Her published work explores queer identity construction and representation through discourse analysis, and includes the book Dyke/Girl: Language and Identities in a Lesbian Group (2012, Palgrave). She is currently engaged in ethnographic research with transgender young people, as part of a wider project on LGBTQ youth identities. 

  • Sara Mills, Sheffield Hallam University

    Sara Mills is a Research Professor in Linguistics at Sheffield Hallam University. Her most recent publications include Gender and Colonial Space (2005, Manchester University Press), Michel Foucault (Critical Thinkers Series, 2003, Routledge), Feminist Post-Colonial Theory: An Anthology (edited with Reina Lewis, 2003, Edinburgh University Press) and Gender and Politeness (2003, Cambridge University Press).

  • Laura L. Paterson, Open University

    Laura L. Paterson is a lecturer in English language and applied linguistics at the Open University, UK. Her research focuses on discourses of distressed communities and she is currently working on the co-authored book Poverty and Place: Geographical Text Analysis and CDA (Palgrave 2018, co-authored with Gregory). She has also published on audience responses to Benefits Street, British Pronoun Use, Prescription, and Processing (Palgrave 2014), and media responses to the Occupy movement (co-authored with Gregoriou). 

  • Georgina Turner, University of Liverpool

    Georgina Turner is lecturer in media at the University of Liverpool. Her research is concerned with media representation and discourses of identity, gender and sexuality; she is currently working on television representations of older women-loving women and their impact on audiences. 

  • Laura Coffey-Glover, Nottingham Trent University

    Laura Coffey-Glover is a lecturer in linguistics at Nottingham Trent University. She is interested in the construction of gendered discourses in the media, using corpus linguistic and feminist discourse analytic methods of text analysis. 


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How to Cite

Jones, L., Mills, S., Paterson, L. L., Turner, G., & Coffey-Glover, L. (2017). Identity and naming practices in British marriage and civil partnerships. Gender and Language, 11(3), 309-335.