Names

Personal names carry history, traditions, identity, spiritual meaning and hopes. The history of Canada includes both developments and controversy in naming. Naming has been an issue for many aboriginal communities. The use of European-origin names instead of traditional names is one example.

Names

Personal names carry history, traditions, identity, spiritual meaning and hopes. The history of Canada includes both developments and controversy in naming. Naming has been an issue for many aboriginal communities. The use of European-origin names instead of traditional names is one example. Another example is "Project Surname," carried out in the 1970s in the Northwest Territories to give surnames to the Inuit.

In common law a person's surname is a question of custom and repute only; it can be changed at will provided it is not done for a fraudulent purpose. Married women are not obliged to take their husbands' names. Provincial and territorial laws, typically under the Vital Statistics Act (governing the naming of children at birth) and the Change of Name Act, have supplemented or supplanted the common law.

Advent of the Charter

Before the equality section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, most provincial and territorial laws provided that a child of married parents was to be registered in the surname of the father, and the child of unmarried parents was to be registered in the surname of the mother, unless the father agreed in writing to the child being registered in his name. With the advent of section 15 of the Charter, and in some instances because of Charter challenges launched in the courts with the involvement of LEAF (Women's Legal Education and Action Fund), provinces and territories have amended their legislation to provide, generally, that a child may be registered with the surname of the mother, the surname of the father, a hyphenated surname or a combination of the parents' surnames.

If the mother certifies the birth and the father is unacknowledged by her, the child is to be registered in the surname or former surname of the mother. Ontario law also provides that a child may be registered in a surname in accordance with the child's cultural, ethnic or religious heritage. Under Québec law, spouses retain their own names for legal purposes, and children take the family name of one or both parents.

Legal Changes of Name

Change of name statutes document a legal change of name. If adults change their names, the consent of a spouse to a change of name affecting both partners is necessary. On dissolution of marriage, a woman can revert legally to her original surname, usually without having to file any formal application. However, there are exceptions. In Ontario, for example, if a woman wishes a legal name change to the surname she had immediately before the marriage, she must apply to do so within 90 days after the marriage is dissolved. In British Columbia, the legislation provides that an application may be made to the court, but in practice this is not required. For the change of a child's name, the consent of one or both parents, and sometimes of the child (if over 12 or 14 years of age, depending on the jurisdiction), is usually required. If a noncustodial parent does not consent to a proposed name change, the court may determine what is in the best interests of the child.


Further Reading

  • Valerie Alia, Names, Numbers and Northern Policy: Inuit Project Surname, and the Politics of Identity (1994).