Brides and Names, New York Times Edition

February 20, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

“She’s keeping her name,” a friend said the other day. We were talking about a girl we know who got married last year. Is that still a thing, I wondered, keeping your name. What I really meant was: how much of a thing is it? Then I remembered Wedding Crunchers , the corpus of all words in New York Times wedding announcements — sort of like Google nGrams but with a much narrower focus and far fewer filters for researchers. 

Unfortunately, the database goes back only to 1981, so we can’t kow when the name-keeping trend started. It was underway by the eighties. By 2000, more than 20% of Times brides announced that they were keeping their names, so many that several of those who were changing their names felt it necessary to proclaim their traditionalism in the announcement.

(Click for a larger view.)

I’m not sure what happened in 2015. Maybe that was the year that the Times instituted the current policy, which finesses the politically tinged proclamations of the keepers and the changers. Instead, the Times puts the maiden name in the headline and the married name in the text. Finding out who’s keeping and who’s changing requires a closer reading, but those who are interested will figure it out.
Here are two weddings from Sunday’s paper. (I edited out the photos to save space.)

(Click for a larger and clearer view.)

Adrienne is becoming Mrs. Adams. Elle will remain Ms. O’Sullivan.

There’s another change in the language, though you have to go back to the eighties to see it. Adrienne graduated from UNM, Elle from UCSB. In fact all brides and grooms these days “graduate from” their schools. But in the old days, a student “was graduated from” the school. The Times, and many of the people whose wedding announcements they accepted were traditionalists.

Even as late as 1980, nearly 60% of the wedding announcements included someone who “was graduated from” a school.*

The wedding announcements in the New York Times are hardly a representative sample of anything, But they do offer a glimpse into the world of the elite. For more on that, see Todd Schneider’s excellent post from 2013. As for those at the other end of the social spectrum, graduating from college is not so much an issue, and as marriage rates decline, neither are wedding announcements in the newspaper or the question of whose name to use.

*Nowadays, you sometimes hear, “I graduated college in 2015,” much to the dismay of language prescriptivists, who insist that the correct expression is, “I graduated from college.” They don’t realize that their presciptivist counterparts of 150 years ago would have been just as appalled and in despair for the language because people were not saying, “I was graduated from college.”

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