How BC's Name Act Discriminates Against Women

March 10, 2018


Next week, we leave on vacation. Willow is so excited, she already packed her bag—two weeks ago. She packed mine, too. It includes a bathing suit, sunglasses, sunscreen and the one thing I never travel without: proof that I’m her mother.


Whenever we leave the country, I need to tote a copy of my daughter’s birth certificate, the one naming me as her parent. That’s because her name, Hosgood, is different than mine. Legally, anyway.


And not because I haven’t tried to take my husband’s name.


In British Columbia, if I want to keep my maiden name and add my married name (also known as a double-barrelled last name) I need a criminal records check, fingerprinting, new birth certificate and a whack of fees totalling hundreds of dollars. Not to mention several weeks spent waiting without ID or a driver’s licence.


More importantly, I would need to surrender my birth certificate, a dog-eared, paper rectangle issued four decades earlier, before being handed a brand-new one stating that I’d been born a Hosgood. That gives me pause more than anything.


The decision to change one’s name is a big one. By the time I married Nick, I was feeling quite attached to mine: I’d lived with it for 39 years. I’d been seeing it in print for almost 15 years. I’d built a life and a career on it.


That’s why, the day I marched into the Services BC office in 2013 ready to take my husband’s name, I laid my marriage certificate on the counter and boldly requested to become Amanda Follett Hosgood.


And was told that I couldn’t.


Couldn’t, at least, without a legal name change.


It defies logic. All you need to change from your maiden name to your married name is a marriage certificate. It was clear that I was legally entitled to Follett; it was equally clear that I could take Hosgood. The province was happy to accept either. But it was digging in its heels on allowing me to take both.


The root of the issue is murky. According to BC’s archaic, pre-war Name Act, last updated in the 1940s, a spouse can:

(a) use the surname he or she had immediately before the marriage,

(b) use the surname he or she had at birth or by adoption, or

(c) use the surname of his or her spouse by marriage.


Compare that to Ontario’s Change of Name Act, which specifically states that, “A spouse may, at any time while married, elect … to change his or her surname to … (ii) a surname consisting of the surnames that both spouses had immediately before their marriage, hyphenated or combined…”


In fact, BC is the only province outside Quebec that restricts a woman’s right to take her husband’s name. And it seems to be only recently that the province has begun implementing its Name Act to the word. 


Like some other women, I was told that I could change my driver’s licence but not my health card. As BC works to integrate the two cards, this is creating problems for women who previously adopted a double-barrelled name—not to mention the potential issues that come with having ID in two different names.


There are women who married out of province and have legally used their double-barrelled last names for decades before arriving in BC and being told they won’t be issued a driver’s licence without a legal name change. There are others who have previously held ID in this province with their hyphenated last name, moved to another province, and been told upon their return that their name is no longer valid.


The policy is also causing problems for immigrants who adopted an English name upon arriving in Canada—sometimes decades ago—only to be told now that they need a legal name change. 


Then there’s the story of the woman was told she needed to add “Jr.” to her married last name because that’s how her husband signed their marriage certificate. She took her complaint to the ombudsman and was successful. 


But, I mean, really.


In 1979, the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women granted women “the same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.” While BC’s confusing and outdated policy in principle discriminates against anyone wanting a double-barrelled name, it clearly affects women disproportionately.


Last year, I heard Katalin Toreky Paziuk interviewed on CBC about this exact issue and reached out to her. “I was born and married in BC, and have always lived here,” she says. She was married and took her husband’s name in 2000, but it’s just since 2015 that she’s been told she needs a legal name change.


Katalin started an online petition that is currently at 390 signatures from a target of 500 (sign here, sign here!). But a previous petition, submitted by Catriona Adam and presented to MLA Bruce Ralston in the BC legislature, fell on deaf ears: “Petitions don’t have to be acted on in our province,” Catriona says. A letter I sent to the Ministry of Health was similarly dismissed. 


I’ve gone ahead and changed my name where I can: on social media, in my bylines. It brings inconveniences like reminding employers to write cheques in my legal name. On a recent trip to Vancouver, I was almost denied my hotel room because my friend had reserved the room under Hosgood. I used my daughter's health card to prove who I was.


I'm writing this on the day after International Women’s Day in an era when double-barrelled last names, hyphenated or not, have been commonplace for decades. I was born Amanda Follett. I have a history with that name. I’d also like to share a name with my family. I want both, without the hassle, expense and identity shift that would come with a legal name change.


I’m a wife, a mother and a professional. Why isn’t British Columbia making it easier for me to adopt a name that represents my complete identity? 


Credit for the "Hello My Name Is" graphic goes to Catriona Adam. Please feel free to use and share!

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