Change in Marital Status = Change in Name?

lorisa stein change in marital status change in nameWhen you get married or enter a common-law relationship, is there a legal obligation to change your surname?

A surname is a significant part of our identity. That identity may recall a familial, cultural, or religious heritage, the belonging or association with others, the memory of a special person or event, and an established personal and professional uniqueness.

A surname elicits emotional responses as well. Pride and loyalty with a powerful connection to your family and its history.  A fresh start from a name associated with shame or estrangement. A struggle to define who we are as individuals transitioning from being single to a common-law relationship or marriage.

Think about:

  • A spouse who wanted their last names to be the same as a public declaration that they were now committed to each other in a conjugal relationship and ‘out of the dating market’.
  • A spouse who demanded they use a combination of their surnames ‘to demonstrate equality in their marriage’.
  • Other situations are more complicated and confusing. One spouse who had divorced a year ago felt it was wrong after 10 years of marriage, and experiencing such a change in their personal and professional identity, that it was harmful to them and their children to be told to shed their identity and return to a lapsed identity.

The Ontario legislation governing name transition upon marriage is the Change of Name Act

Change is defined as “any change by way of alteration, substitution, addition or abandonment”.

Each person requires two names

There is no legal obligation upon or at any time during cohabitation or marriage to change a surname to that of the other spouse or to create a combination of surnames. However, Ontarians are not permitted in law to have a single word name – both forename and surname must be registered upon birth.

No obligation to revert to the prior surname

Upon the breakdown of the relationship or formal dissolution of the marriage by the granting of a divorce, death or civil annulment there is no legal obligation of either spouse to change the surname taken in marriage reverting back to their surname immediately in use prior to marriage. The act of changing their surname is a voluntary election through the prescribed registration procedure with the Registrar General of Ontario.  The spouse changing their name after the dissolution of the marriage need not provide notice of their name change to their former spouse.

Change of name process

The application to register a new name involves three choices:

  1. As a Canadian citizen and Ontario resident, simply assume the last name of your spouse on certain government-issued identification documents (e.g. driver’s license and health card) without formally abandoning your own legal surname;
  2. Formally change your (Ontario) birth certificate by electing to change your surname during the marriage or in a common-law relationship and receive a new birth certificate; or
  3. Formally elect to return to your last previous surname upon the dissolution of marriage and receive a new birth certificate.

For more information: or call 1-800-461-2156 or in Toronto, 416 325-8305

Lorisa Stein has responded to many questions and assisted clients with requests for their name change when they enter a conjugal relationship or in anticipation of marriage. She notes an upsurge in the number of spouses who feel pressured to again change their surname after a lengthy relationship. Contact Lorisa through the contact page or her direct line 416 596-8081.