People perceive a husband to have less power in the relationship, when his wife chooses not to adopt the mans surname after marriage, a first-of-its-kind study has found.
The study examined whether peoples perceptions of a mans personality vary depending on whether his wife adopts his surname or retains her own.
It found that people perceive a man as being higher in traits related to femininity and lower in traits related to masculinity, if his wife chooses to keep her surname.
The tradition of women adopting their husbands surname after marriage is one of the most widespread gender-role norms across the world.
To date, scientists have not examined how a woman's marital surname choice influences others perception of her husband.
Researchers from the University of Nevada in the US carried out three studies in the US and UK.
The first two studies showed that husbands whose wives keep their own surnames are often described through terms that are counter to the gender-typical personality traits and power framework used for men.
They are described in more expressive than instrumental terms, and are seen to hold less power in a marriage, researchers said.
"A womans marital surname choice therefore has implications for perceptions of her husbands instrumentality, expressivity, and the distribution of power in the relationship," said Rachael Robnett, from University of Nevada.
"Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couples gender-typed personality traits," Robnett said.
Results from the third study suggest that people are not unanimous in how they think about such cases.
People who firmly hold on to traditional gender roles and can be described as hostile sexists react particularly strongly to a man whose wife retains her surname because they see him as being disempowered.
"We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles," said Robnett.
"Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional womens husbands," she said.
According to previous studies, women who violate the marital surname tradition are viewed differently from others.
They are described in terms of instrumental traits that in a gendered society are typically assigned to men.
These include having a higher status, yielding more power, being more self-focused, ambitious and assertive.
These traits contrast with the expressive characteristics that are typically assigned to women, such as being more nurturing, kind and having less influence and power.