Couple Identity Work: Collaborative Couplehood, Gender Inequalities, and Power in Naming. By: Sue, Christina A; Vasquez-Tokos, Jessica and Núñez, Adriana C. 2024. Gender & Society. Vol. 38 Issue 2, p187-215.

The study of baby naming is valuable for understanding how gender inequality is reproduced in families. Often treated as an event, baby naming also represents an important social and cultural process that can reveal gendered dynamics in couple decision-making. Baby naming, which represents a highly visible and symbolic family milestone, is a strategic site in which to examine how couple identities are constructed—for self, partner, and others—through the naming process and through stories parents tell of how they named the baby. Drawing on 46 interviews with U.S. Mexican-origin heterosexual parents, we expose tensions that result when practices do not align with a desired (egalitarian) couple identity and detail the ensuing cognitive, emotion, and narrative labor that parents—primarily women—perform to reconcile inconsistencies. We introduce the concept of couple identity work, or the work involved in creating and projecting a desired impression of a relationship for multiple audiences, to provide a theoretical framework for these gendered dynamics. We show how couple identity work is enacted—and power expressed—through men’s and women’s strategies of action/inaction and storytelling, and how this work reproduces and obscures gendered power and inequality in the intimate context of baby naming.

Plain Language Summary: Gender Inequality in Couple Decision-Making About Baby Names The study of baby naming is valuable for understanding how gender inequality occurs in couple decision-making. Baby naming represents a highly visible and important family milestone which increases the stakes of couples’ decisions. In addition, the stories people tell about how they named their babies can reflect the way they want to be seen in society, for example, as a couple that makes decisions together versus a couple where the husband makes important family decisions with little to no input from his wife. We analyze interviews with 46 U.S. Mexican-origin heterosexual parents to understand how they made the important decision of what to name their baby. We find that, even though women do more work researching baby names and trying to come to an agreement with their partners, men have more control over the naming process. We also find that both parents tell stories about how they named their babies in a way that downplays men’s power and makes them appear as an egalitarian couple.