COUPLE IDENTITY WORK: Collaborative Couplehood, Gender Inequalities, and Power in Naming
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.