Lecture: His name? Her name? Their name? Last names, family practices and identity

Katrine Kehlet Bechsgaard, Ph.D., University of Copenhagen
Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley

6415 Dwinelle Hall

Level F, Office Wing

Face coverings required for attendees.

Reception to follow.
Proof of vaccination required
 to attend reception.

Just four decades ago, until 1981, Danish women automatically got their husband’s last name when getting married. Since then, changes in legislation, family forms and structures, including gender norms, have taken place and now, 25% of last name changes in Denmark are done by men. This recent transformation in last name usage in Denmark is not the norm in all Western countries; in the U.S., for example, 90% of married women still take their husband’s last name.

This presentation will focus on the role of last names in family life in contemporary Denmark. Dr. Bechsgaard will discuss the role of last names as part of family practices and the role of name choices in identity formation in the family, and the linguistic and cultural features that make last names more or less attractive will be addressed; for example, the sen-ending in names like Hansen and Jensen. As with many other choices in the 21st Century, choices of last names in families are subject to individual preferences to a larger degree than in previous times, when tradition was a more dominant factor in families and society. In some cultures, name choices have become a way of positioning oneself and forming identity.

The presentation is based on a qualitative study carried out in 2021 in Copenhagen, which is part of a two-year research project supported by the Carlsberg Foundation. Examples from interviews with Danish individuals and couples will indicate that the recent developments in last name usage in Denmark are connected to cultural developments in family life and gender norms, and that choices and narratives of last names in couples and families in Denmark today contain important information about and reflect family identity formation and family practices.

With questions, contact issa@berkeley.edu.