A correspondent from Finland writes to say that 'in a recent English test, the pupils were supposed to demonstrate their ability to use the will-future by forming questions to a fortune teller. My daughter wrote: What will be my husband's name? which the teacher corrected to What will my husband's name be?, deducting one point for the mistake.' She feels her daughter's word-order was correct. What do I think?
Both word-orders are certainly possible. Try typing the string 'what will be' into Google (using inverted commas around the string) and you will get many examples. Here are two (the first from the New Scientist):
What will be the biggest breakthrough of the next 50 years?
What will be the quality of these jobs?
The examples point to one of the reasons for this word-order: the length of the complement construction which follows the verb. If this is short, there is no problem with inserting text between the auxiliary and be, but as it gets longer, such an insertion becomes much less likely. Compare:
What will the breakthrough be?
What will the biggest breakthrough be?
What will the biggest breakthrough of the next 50 years be?
What will the biggest and most dramatic breakthrough of the next 50 years be?
There comes a point where the distance between will and be is so great that the sentence starts to be difficult to process. The solution is to keep the verb phrase united.
When the complement is very short, the end-placed be is normal and natural. The principle applies to a whole raft of sentences, such as:
What could the matter be?
Who will the captain be?
What will the outcome be?
But the alternative word-order is also possible:
What could be the matter?
Who will be the captain?
What will be the outcome?
The difference is stylistic: the latter is somewhat more literary and formal. Perhaps this is why the teacher did not like it. And certainly, in a context where the sentences are generally colloquial (as would probably have been the case in an intimate chat with a fortune-teller), the will be usage might easily have sounded anomalous. However, it is perfectly possible to make will sentences informal, by using a contracted auxiliary; and when one does so, it turns out that the will be construction is actually preferred. Here are the stats for two quick searches on Google today:
Who'll be the captain? 5 hits
Who'll the captain be? 0 hits
What'll be the outcome? 2260 hits
What'll the outcome be? 204 hits