You Can't Take Your Spouse's Name in Quebec

"In marriage, both spouses retain their respective names, and exercise their respective civil rights under those names." Article 393 of the Civil Code of Quebec

Since 1981, women in Quebec have been banned from legally taking their husband's  name. According to Marie-Hélène Dubé, a Montreal lawyer who specializes in family law, in an article published in the Global News, “The reason this law was adopted was to put an end to huge social pressure on women upon marrying to take the husband’s name." Dubé justified the harshness of the law by stating, "The reality is if the rule is too flexible, women can be subject to pressures … where they can be forced to do something that they don’t really want to do."

According to the Directeur de l'etat civil Quebec's website, "The law permits a person to apply for a change of given name or surname under certain conditions. Such a change is granted only if a serious reason, within the meaning of the Ci'vil Code of Québec, has been shown. Important: Under the Civil Code of Québec, both spouses retain their respective names in marriage and exercise civil rights under those names. Consequently, if a married woman wants to adopt her spouse's surname, the Directeur de l'état civil will authorize that change of name only in an exceptional situation."'

Names can be changed in Quebec in two ways:

1. A child's name change can be authorized by the court in the case of abandonment by a parent, in the case of deprivation of parental authority, or in the case of a change of filiation, such as through an adoption.

2. A person can also apply to the Directeur de l'état civil for a name change. The website gives a few examples of reasons to apply for a change of name, including: "The use, for five years or more, of a surname or given name not entered on the act of birth; A name of foreign origin, too difficult to pronounce or write in its original form; Serious prejudice or psychological suffering caused by the use of the name; A name that invites ridicule or that is infamous (marked by disgrace, shame or humiliation); or the intention to add to the surname of a child under 18 the surname of the father or mother, or a part of it if it is a compound surname."

This is a difficult process, as illustrated by Saleema Webster in an article in Chatelaine: "There are circumstances in which a name change is allowed: parental abandonment, other reasons of inconvenience. I checked every box, adding that it would be a hardship not to have the same name as the rest of my new family. ...Eventually, I had to provide a letter from a psychologist supporting my claim of emotional hardship, and in a process that took over a year and hundreds of dollars, I was granted a legal name change, from Saleema Nawaz to Saleema Webster." (This article also includes a humorous story with a slight twist on the standard "people assume you have your husband's name" story you hear so often in America, in which a doctor in Quebec was incredibly confused by the author and her husband sharing a last name).

I have so many thoughts on this. I kind of get the idea of cutting down on social pressure, because seriously y'all, there is a ridiculous amount of social pressure for women to change their name, but at the same time, this law seems like it goes way too far in terms of taking away people's choice. So though I can understand how they got to this point, I highly disagree with it. Plenty of people seem to agree with me on this, including the Prime Minister of Canada and his wife. A National Post article noted that a directive that stated the Prime Minister's wife be known as "Sophie Grégoire Trudeau" was effectively giving a middle finger to Quebec's law, as "Since Trudeau and Grégoire married in 2005 in Montreal, she has had no right to share names with her husband — or their children, for that matter." (although I should note that I'm pretty sure there's no law in Canada that requires children to have their father's name).

The wording of the law is also very broad, "spouse" rather than husband or wife. I'd normally applaud the gender-neutral wording, but in this case, I think it means that homosexual couples are banned from taking each other's surnames upon marriage as well. And the same justifications for avoiding social pressure seem to not hold up in that situation. If you have two men marrying each other, there's theoretically no social pressure. If you have two women marrying each other, is there twice the pressure? And what sort of social pressure exists for genderqueer folks who don't identify as either male or female? I'm just so curious.

In any case, the justifications fall apart pretty quickly and you just have a situation where people are banned from making their own choices about their names post-marriage. And that's never cool.