In English-speaking Canada, it used to be an unquestioned tradition that a woman would take her husband’s last name when she got married, leaving behind her “maiden” or birth surname. Historically, the tradition was rooted in the English laws of coverture, which was the legal doctrine whereby a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by those of her husband upon marriage. The tradition became custom in the British colonies over centuries. But in the last fifty years, that convention has slowly begun to change. Many women today choose to keep their birth surnames or to hyphenate, and some men choose to take their wife’s surname instead. In Ontario, the legislation surrounding name changes uses only the word “spouse” which allows for either gender to change their name, and allows for same-sex couples to have the same options as heterosexual couples.

In Ontario, there are three ways to change your last name:

  1. Assume

You can assume your spouse’s name on government documents such as a health card or driver’s licence. Your name on your birth certificate, however, will stay the same. Assuming your spouse’s name does not cost any money.

  1. Elect (Legally Change Your Last Name)

You can elect to legally change your last name after marriage or if you are in a common law relationship. If you were born in Ontario, you will get a new birth certificate and a certificate of name change.

Electing to change your name is free if you do it within 90 days of the date of marriage and $25 thereafter. If you are in a common law relationship, you have 90 from the date of filing a joint declaration of conjugal relationship.

  1. Elect (Go back to your Previous Last Name)

If you have previously elected to legally change your name, you can apply to change it back to a previous last name following divorce, separation, annulment or death of a spouse.

Electing to return to your previous last name will cost $25.

Although the tradition of a wife taking her husband’s surname has been entrenched in English-speaking countries, it is by no means universal. Many other cultures and countries do not adhere to the practice at all. In fact, in the province of Quebec marriage has not been a valid reason for a woman to change her surname since 1981. Similar laws also exist in France and Greece. But most jurisdictions given women the choice to do as they please, also allowing a husband to adopt his wife’s birth surname.

If you have questions about divorce or separation, please contact Jason P. Howie, online or at 519.973.1500.