Hyphenated last names, and why the BC Name Act needs to change

image credit: Nook & Cranny BC

Confession time: I’m not who you think I am.

My first name isn’t Jean, and my last name isn’t Lomas-Hamilton. I’ve been living under an assumed name.

But waitwaitwait, don’t leave! I haven’t been lying to you, exactly.

Jean is my middle name. I’ve gone by this name since birth, because that’s the tradition in my family (we’re fun like that). This means I spend a lot of time correcting people at the doctor’s office and the DMV and other official-type places where they look at my ID.

One of my pet peeves is when people find out I go by my middle name and proceed to ask what my “real” name is. Jean is my real name. It’s on my birth certificate so it counts! It just happens to not be first. And even though it’s annoying to have to explain to people, I decided to inflict this upon the small one (and her future sister) as well, because I do think it’s a nice tradition and we don’t have many of those, really.

I’m told that certain extended family members who do not share the above-mentioned naming practice actually called me by my first name for the first few months of my life, hoping it’d catch on. It didn’t because they don’t get to make that call. That’s the beauty of being able to name your own children.

As for my last name, I actually didn’t change it when Justin and I got married. I wanted to hyphenate it, but due to a fairly antiquated policy here in BC, my options were to either keep my last name, or drop it and take his. To hyphenate my name, I would have had apply for a legal name change. In BC this involves surrendering birth and marriage certificates, paying a fee, and a bunch of other stuff I wasn’t interested in doing — and, frankly, that I shouldn’t have to do.

At any rate, I decided to use Lomas-Hamilton informally, which, as it turns out, pretty much just means on the internet. Interestingly, almost no one asked about this, and many family members on both sides automatically started calling me Jean Hamilton, I guess because it’s just what’s done and maybe they don’t know me very well. To be fair, some of them don’t know me that well. And most have been pretty good about reverting to Lomas when I tell them.

When you have a baby, you can give it any last name you want, which makes for some interesting possibilities. I campaigned for Lomilton but Justin was not on board*. Then I proposed Lomas for a girl, and Hamilton for a boy, or vice versa … still no. We ultimately went with Lomas-Hamilton, because we both wanted to share a name with her. It was also important to us to acknowledge both sides of her heritage equally.

We included the hyphen to avoid confusion about whether Lomas could be a middle name rather than part of her surname. When there’s a hyphen, that means it’s one name. Like Anne-Marie or Saxe-Coburg or Chik-fil-A. Right?

Apparently not, based on a lot of people’s reactions. This kid is just getting Hamilton’d all over the place, and it’s pretty frustrating. Not that Hamilton is a bad name — it’s just not her whole name. Nobody’s going around only calling me by half of my (legal) last name**.

What if she marries someone who also has a double-barrelled name, you ask? She can figure it out — presumably by then she’ll be an adult with reasonable decision-making skills. It’s not a calamity (in fact, I’ve heard getting married is quite a happy occasion for many people). She can change her name, or not. She can drop Lomas, or Hamilton. That’s her call and I refuse to worry about it or take offence at whatever decision she makes. Her name, her choice.

Hard to say the whole thing? That’s too bad because it’s her name. We gave her a short first name in part because we knew she’d have a long last one. Also, she has fewer syllables in her full name than a lot of people I know. You don’t have to agree with our choices, but you have to respect them, and you have to respect her. If someone tells you their name, you don’t get to call them something else just because it’s more convenient. And sure, it’s an adjustment if you’ve gotten used to just saying Hamilton, but people didn’t seem to have trouble adjusting to calling me Jean Hamilton, even though it isn’t my name.

But back to this archaic name law in BC. It turns out that it’s even more ridiculous than I thought it was back when Justin and I got married. BC is the only province (other than Quebec, which has a whole other messed-up set of issues when it comes to this) that requires a costly and onerous legal name change process just to hyphenate your last name upon marriage. If we lived anywhere else in Canada, this wouldn’t be an issue at all. In BC, though, you can literally CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE LAST NAME to your spouse’s with no problem. But heaven forbid you be permitted to add their name to yours without jumping through a bajillion hoops and giving up all traces of your former identity. I mean … reissuing your birth certificate? How does that even make sense?

It doesn’t, dearest pals. It just doesn’t.

Complicating things is the fact that you can get certain documents changed to your hyphenated name, even if BC law doesn’t recognize it. I recently connected with Catriona Adam of Nook & Cranny BC, a community advocacy group dedicated to bringing this issue to light and changing the law. Catriona shared all kinds of bizarre stories with me — of people who were issued multiple ID cards with hyphenated last names only to be told “hey, this isn’t your name, you filthy liar”*** when applying for renewal, people who were berated by government staff for using a “fake” name, people having only their spouse’s last name (and not their own) printed on their ID against their wishes, and more. It’s a real mess out here, folks.

I’d appreciate a little respect from our provincial government, in the form of a change to the Name Act. How have we not caught up with the rest of the country on this? At this point I’m not even sure if I’d officially hyphenate my name anyway (36 years is a long time and I’ve become quite attached to it), but I’d like the option for myself and others. I’d also like my kids to be able to do what they want with their names, if and when the time comes to make that choice for themselves.

Lomas-Hamilton-Saxe-Coburg-Chick-fil-A-McGillicuddy, anyone? If that’s what she wants, then yes — and I will proudly say the whole darned thing.

Visit the Nook & Cranny BC website for more information about their campaign to change BC’s Name Act, and see how you can get involved.

* the other portmanteau option, Hamas, was quickly dismissed … for obvious reasons.

** though I must admit, I do enjoy the odd “Lomy” here and there.

*** not an exact quote — don’t come after me, government!

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