Feminist Last Naming Practices

Nontraditional Last Name Stories


by A. Gracie Rennecker

The Feminism and Last-Naming Practices Project is designed to explore alternative naming practices to the “traditional” patrilineal practice, when women take their male partner’s last name, and that name is given to their children. We sought insight into the types of naming practices in use by people both from today and from past generations. This project began during the fourth block (December 2012) course Women, Men, and Others (AN/FG239 syllabus) taught by Dr. Sarah Hautzinger at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. Dr. Sarah Hautzinger proposed the idea of the community-based learning project during the first few days of the 18-day course and the project was continuously modified through the entirety of the block by the class as a whole.

The class was split into five teams: the contacts team, the data team, the text team, the website team, and the project managing team. Each team consisted of 4-5 students from the class. Each team had specific duties such as managing the interviews, working with the qualitative data obtained, and making the web page. The original plan was for each person in the class to find 3 contacts of people with feminist-motivated, last-naming-practice stories. We ended up with over 100 contacts, not all of whom we have been able to interview to date. We contacted promising participants, who elected whether or not to participate in the project. There were a few contacts referred to us by people outside of the class as well. We received Institutional Review Board approval for our project and permission to obtain verbal consent.

We used a purposive sampling method for this project, meaning we were attempting to include maximum diversity in our sample, rather than to create a sample statistically representative of the general North-American population. Each person in the class did between 3 and 5 interviews. After consent was given, the interview proceeded with a semi-structured list of questions. The interviewer was allowed to ask questions and create new questions based on the direction of the conversation. Most of the interviews were digitally recorded; however we did have a few interviews in email format. For some the people that were not interviewed, the student in the class that knew their story wrote a short paragraph to use along with the recorded and emailed stories. We ended the interviewing process with 54 interviews of women, men, parents, “children” (adult children), married, divorced, and so on, nearly from the United States who all had last name stories that related to feministic motivations.

After the interviews were finished, each person in the class transcribed between 3 and 5 of the interviews on the program NVivo8, which is a qualitative data analysis (QDA) computer software. We used this software because it allowed us to work with our rich, text-based and audio-interview information. We were able to classify, sort, and arrange our interviews into prominent salient themes. We created 27 themes that included themes such as Loyalty, Divorce, Regrets, Role Models, Hyphenated Unions/Children, Created Names, and Family Names.

Students in the class wrote topical essays based on the previously discussed themes. We feel confident that the people we interviewed, although not a statistically representative sample, provided fruitful personal narratives that speak to the aspirations of this project.

Possible future research might include furthering the interview process to those not interviewed on the contact list as well as to other people found through networking. Also, statistical data could be rendered from the qualitative data. Further analysis on the naming practices in use today could also be a possible direction.

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