What’s in a name? Tradition, she says

Gatineau woman wants to know why she can't take husband's name

Marianne White, Ottawa Citizen

Published: Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Caroline Parent assumed she would take her husband's surname after their wedding. But the Ontario-born newlywed, who lives in Quebec, was shocked to learn that a 1981 provincial law forbids it.

Now, the Gatineau woman has written to Quebec Premier Jean Charest to complain about this aspect of Quebec's distinctiveness.

"It's unbelievable and totally unfair. Why can't I take my husband's name if I want to, like anywhere else in the country?" Ms. Parent asked during a phone interview Wednesday.

The 27-year-old married Karl Lamirande six months ago. She would have been honoured to assume her husband's name because they want to hold on to traditions.

"I want to have the same name as my kids. I want the whole family to use the same name. It's important to us," she said.

In Canadian provinces where common law prevails, a woman can begin using her husband's surname after marriage. Armed with a copy of their official, provincially issued marriage certificate, women can easily and officially acquire new identification for documents such as a driver's licence.

But in Quebec, since a 1981 reform of the civil law, women are not permitted to adopt their husband's name at marriage -not even if they apply for an official name change.

Procedures for formal name change are very strict in Quebec and the decision is up to the director of civil status. It requires a serious reason, such as difficulty of use due to spelling or pronunciation, or bearing a name that is mocked or that has been made infamous.

"Obviously, I don't match those criteria," said Ms. Parent. "So it's hopeless."

She hopes to spark a public debate on the issue, but before taking any other action, Ms. Parent is waiting to hear from the government. "I'll wait and see. I don't know what step will be next because I haven't thought about it yet."

"All I am asking for is that women have the choice to take the name they want," she said.

The civil law reform took place shortly after the creation of the Quebec Charter of Rights in which equality between men and women was clearly stated, recalls Alain Roy, a family law professor at the University of Montreal.

"It was a logical follow-up to translate that equality into name attribution. And it was a highly symbolic gain for the feminist movement," Mr. Roy said in an interview.

The change was well received in Quebec and has never really been challenged before, stressed Mr. Roy. But he is not surprised to see it questioned now.

"There is a new generation of women, raised in an equal society, who don't feel threatened by men," said Mr. Roy. "For them, taking their husband's name doesn't mean living under their husband's shadow."