Some time ago my wife, Catharine, was in the hospital for a hip operation. Trouble was her friends couldn’t find her. They were told there was no Catharine McKenty listed. Instead (unknown to them) she was listed as Catharine Turnbull, her maiden name.

That’s right. In 1981 Quebec passed a law decreeing that women keep their own names when they marry. At the time feminists hailed the law as a step toward the equality of the sexes. Now, many brides chafe under this regulation. « I detest the fact the decision is imposed on me, » said one.

The current controversy pits women demanding freedom to choose against those who hail the law as a landmark for women’s liberation. One feminist explains that the idea behind changing one’s name is that women are (men’s) property. They’re being passed from the father’s authority to the husband’s authority .

In the United States there is freedom of choice. But most American brides take their husbands’ name. Most American consider a woman who keeps her own name as an affront to her (husband’s) masculinity.

The big argument among contemporary Quebec women for changing their names is convenience. They plan to have children and they want everyone in the family to have the same last name. And they don’t buy the argument they are letting down the feminists who fought for the change a generation ago. They may admit it was their mother’s issue but it is not theirs. (Not when they have a woman running for president in the U.S.)

What do you think?

Should the Quebec government soften its stance on married names?

Or would modifying the law on married names be a step back for the feminists?

And how do you handle the name problem if you are a female patient in a hospital?



  1. 1
    Chimera Says:

    There are some strange laws in this country, and this is one of the strangest. Mind you, I’ve never understood the western European concept of keeping one name for your entire life, either — and a name in which you are not allowed any input, to boot!

    BC brought in options several years ago for marrying couples: (1) each may keep his own name, (2) both may take the man’s name, (3) both may take the woman’s name, (4) both may take an entirely new name. And with same sex marriage, the wording for options (2) and (3) will now be combined into (5) both may take the name of either marriage partner. You may not hyphenate the two last names. And you may not choose a name (first or last) that is obviously outside your ethnic culture, unless you are choosing a name in order to anglicize it.

    That « feminist » explanation for why a woman takes her husband’s name is incorrect. In several modern cultures, women have always kept their own last names. It’s only western European cultures that insisted on the woman’s taking the name of her husband, and the reason for that was to make it easier to keep parish records and keep track of parishoners and their offspring. This is a practise of patriarchal, parental societies. It’s also a relatively recent practise.

    It would probably help the hospital patients in Quebec for the records keepers to cross-file married women under their husband’s names, especially if the women are commonly in the habit of using the man’s last name in social settings. But then, when were bureaucracies ever arranged for the convenience of the populace?

    I like the idea of being able to take whatever name you like, rather than being forced to keep the name your parents chose for you in a fit of bliss or duty. You could choose your adult name on your majority birthday.

  2. 2
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    The current trend in Québec is to name the children after the father. Schools are happy about the trend and so are various government services. Most women my age I know kept their husband’s name. They were prefeminists if you wish. The youger ones, postfeminists?, wish the same for them and the kids. Sooner or later our government will have to take heed.
    Of course children of remarried couples will still be a problem unless adopted by the step-father…but that is another painfull process until the biological father or the parent whose surname they bear has died.
    Is it a step back for feminism? Is bow and arrow sport hunting a step back for humankind? We talk a lot about our core values. I guess this one of them. The name thing I mean.
    After being called mme Dubois for 70 years, when at 90 my mother in law was hospitalized she had to de reminded that when they called Mme Blais they were calling her.

  3. 3
    SUZANNE Says:

    I kept my maiden name (because I got married in Quebec) but I don’t like the fact that that decision was not mine to make. I feel a bit miffed that I don’t have the same last name as my children, and I have to explain to my kids that we have last names.

    I think that it should be left up to each individual when they marry.

  4. 4
    Barbara Says:

    I rejoiced when that legislation was passed, but it must have been uncomfortable for a number of women who were used to taking their husband’s name, signifying the unity of their family. I have a friend in the US who uses her birth name despite being married. It does make record-keeping a whole lot simpler these days, when people unfortunately get married more than once — no need to go through the bureaucratic rigamarole of name change. That’s an advantage with respect to health records, I am sure. I suppose if someone were attached to the old paternalistic style, it should be available to them to use it. I would never go back to it.

  5. 5

    I guess I’d be pro-choice on this issue.

  6. 6
    Alex Thomas Says:

    What’s in a name? A rose by any other name…would be denied entry in the competition (it’s for roses, idiot, NOT orchids)
    If your friends know you well, there should be no confusion as to who you are. If not, better find smarter friends.
    Quebec is a special case. It’s still p.o’d over being sold off by France in 1763. Some things take a long time to get over, I suppose. But I digress…
    Are you required to give your name in both official languages? Is the accent acute or grave? Where exactly IS the cedila on this keyboard? How do you spell that again? That’s J-e-a-n D-‘-o-h? Merci, sign here and wait there, le docteur will see vous in huit jours, oops, I meant to say huit heueres…
    Je m’appelle Alexandre De Thomas. Vive le Canada libre!

  7. 7
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Fortunately for me and a few others we do not have to give our names in both official languages. If old mrs Demos (Peuple/People) was wright, I would have to sign: Paul Fils de L’Acerbe/ Paul Son-of-The-Caustic. How charming.

  8. 8
    Peter LeBlanc Says:

    It can be a little tricky. My wife uses both names, A lot of her I.D. is in her name. On our Passports we use my last name. Internationally we are trying to avoid problems. Perhaps we are creating them. I always refer to my wife as Mitchell, LeBlanc,at hospitals, drug stores , etc.

  9. 9
    Chimera Says:

    I guess we should all heave a sigh of relief that we’re not all living in Old Spain. I don’t know if modern Spain has the same custom (I suspect not), but it used to be that if a surname was ever in your family tree, you could use it. In combination or not with any other surname in your family tree.

    A man could take his father’s name, or his mother’s name, or both in either order. That gives four choices right there. And he could do this at whim, using one name one time and another name another time, depending upon whom he was trying to impress with his family tree. Then factor in the grandparents, and you’ve got…what?…a bureaucratic nightmare.

    Life must have been interesting for anyone trying to find anyone in Old Spain…

  10. 10
    Alex Thomas Says:

    That’s probably why nobody EVER found ANYBODY in Old Spain. Which made things easier for Napoleon, when he put his brother on the throne…and inspired the rock tune, « Louis, Louis… »
    « Mi nombre es Manuel de la Vega y Garcia y Montoya y Mercado y Morales y Gonzales y Benevinedo y Alhambra y Castillo y…er, uh, call me Manny… » Spanish passports were a major cause of back injuries and hernias, so I heard.
    Mi nombre es Alejandro de Tomas. Hasta la vista, las mananitas! (y Jiminez y Gomez y Martinez y Rodriguez y…)

  11. 11
    Barbara Says:

    Isn’t it still the case that in Iceland, girls and boys are given surnames indicating their father’s name as in Sigrid Olafsdottir and Leif Olafsson? In that case, I don’t suppose a woman changes her name upon marriage. Does anyone know?

  12. 12
    Chimera Says:

    Barbara: True, although in some cases, a child will take the mother’s name instead of the father’s. And occasionally, both.

    « In Iceland, directories of people’s names, such as the telephone directory, are alphabetised by given name, not by surname. To reduce ambiguity, the phone books go further, naming professions. »

  13. 13
    Kate Says:

    I am from the U.S.A. and my fiancee is from Quebec. We have chosen to live in Montreal for the sake of compromise while fusing both our cultures together. We plan to marry in the state of Pennsylvania in which, legally I can assume his last name. Although, after the wedding when we head back to Quebec, I am told I can only go by his surname socially. On all legal documents, I am to keep my birth name. To be honest, I think this Quebec law, defies what a union is. I find this law to be unconventional and quite silly. Assuming the surname of someone you love should be a choice and not imposed on another person. In the U.S you have several options when it comes to changing your last name once you are married. Why this right is not implemented in Quebec is beyond me! REALLY, I mean think about what a marriage is …. A UNION of 2 people. A foundation in which you start a family! What’s the point of having children if they feel as if their own Mother is an outcast! Picture this…. « Yes, I don’t have the same last name as you, but I am still your Mommy! » Reallly…. what’s the connection? This child jsut popped out of your own womb and you have a different last name as them. WHAT!!! Does not make sense at all. My view is if you get married and start a family everyone has the same last name. I mean think about your later generations. Children need a sense of belonging and having parents that are married with two differnt last names will confuse the crap out of them. I mean really? What’s the point of a « Family unit » if this is the law in Quebec.
    I think Quebec is a really interesting province. I mean most people born here are no longer even getting married, only cohabitating. I almost feel as if I am living on another planet. I mean, this is not a third world country. The U.S. border is only a couple hours away from Montreal. Why do different? If this province is going into a direction where they no longer believe in the sanctity of marriage or feel that the « Name change law » is proper for the society of Quebec than that’s just WRONG . THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE THAT BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY UNIT. U.S., EUROPE., 98% CANADA. My German cousin, 28yrs. who just got married was shocked when I told her that I could not legally change my surname in Quebec! So why isn’t Quebec socially equipped for this. It seems so foolish on their part. As if they don’t want to preserve the rights of « Family History »

  14. 14
    Joe Agnost Says:

    « I think Quebec is a really interesting province. »

    Oh yeah! It’s crazy…. when I tell people outside of Canada about some of the stuff that goes on there (mostly bill 101 stuff) they think I’m lying. They literally don’t believe me. I don’t blame them – it defies ALL logic!

    « I almost feel as if I am living on another planet. »

    It sure doesn’t seem like Canada – that’s for sure!

  15. 15
    Kate Says:

    Glad to see someone from CANADA actually agrees with me on this one! For a while, I thought I was losing my mind. Is this « Bill 101 » only present in Quebec or all of Canada?
    Wacky concept ! And major Cultural shock!

  16. 16
    Barbara Says:

    Kate, I am an American who has lived in Quebec for over thirty years. It may seem crazy at first, but there is more than one way to form a society and the people of Quebec have a right to decide their own way. Just like the frontier mentality put its stamp on Americans, the linguistic difference put its stamp on the Quebecois. Try to understand things from their perspective — it might broaden you. Ignore the crazies on any side because they are a noisy minority. Remember this is the place where, on the day following a separation referendum, the placards came down and people resumed their lives with only a sad shrug from the losing side. I learned a long time ago not to panic. Nothing is EVER as dire as it seems.

  17. 17
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  18. 19
    Karin Em (maiden name Heidt) Says:

    I married my husband in Las Vegas in Jan 2001. We lived in BC at the time. I did not want to take my husband’s last name (I am from Quebec) so we decided to BOTH change our last name to something new. Now that I am living in Quebec again with my husband and 2 children (since June 2003) I am forced to use my maiden name. This is an insult to free will and basic human rights. Is there any way that I can legally use my MARRIED name in the province of Quebec.
    seeking counsel…I definitely think this law is unjust and that everyone should have the right to chose how they are to be addressed by the general public as well as by the government!
    Karin Em

  19. 20

    Hi Karin,

    Thank you for your forceful comment and welcome back to Quebec. I suggest you ascertain the representative of your constituency in the National Assembly and make your views known to him or her about the prohibition of using married names. Good luck.

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  22. 23
    Polexia Says:

    Forcing a woman to keep her maiden name after marriage because changing it is somehow demeaning her, then maybe next we will have laws against the missionary sex position because despite what the woman wants, she can’t be allowed to appear subservient to a man.

    Maiden names are the father’s names, anyway. So instead of saying we belong to our husbands, we are forced to say we belong to our fathers and must carry on our father’s name even if our dad was a rat bastard. Nice.

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