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Changing your name

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If you’re getting married or divorced, you may be thinking about changing your legal name. Or maybe you just feel like changing your name. Learn what’s involved in a name change.

“My spouse and I are getting divorced. When we married 21 years ago, I took his last name. My credit cards, bank accounts, and even my driver’s licence are in my married name. On separating, I thought I might have to make some kind of application to change my last name back to my maiden name. But, it turns out I don’t have to — I can just start using my maiden name again.”

– Jacinda, Abbotsford, BC

Middle aged woman with short brown hair

What you should know

Government identification, such as a passport or driver’s licence, is only issued in your legal name. Anyone age 19 or older can apply to change their legal name under the law in BC. They can choose any new name they want. But the change can’t cause embarrassment or confusion to anyone. It also can’t be objectionable or used for an improper purpose — such as avoiding paying your debts.

We explain the process to apply for a legal name change below.

When they marry, some people choose to change their last name. Under BC law, you have a number of choices for your last name when you marry:

  • You can keep the last name you had before the marriage.
  • You can use the last name you had at birth or by adoption.
  • You can take the last name of the person you’re marrying.

This applies to both men and women and to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. You can choose any of these options and start using that name.

(You don’t have to change your last name if you don’t want to.)

No application required

To be clear, for any of the above options, you do not have to complete a legal name change or make a court application. You can simply start using that name and apply for and get identification (such as a driver’s licence) in your new name right away. The same goes for other documents like credit cards, business cards, and so forth. You just need to provide a copy of your government-issued marriage certificate.

Using a hyphenated, combined, or new last name

On getting married, if you and your spouse want to use a hyphenated or combined last name, or switch to an entirely new last name, you must apply for a legal change of name. It is not automatic. We explain the process shortly.

Tip

The choice of taking the last name of the person you’re marrying doesn’t apply to common-law relationships. This is because the law involved only mentions name changes after marriage. Common-law spouses can keep their own last name or apply for a legal name change.

If you divorce, you may choose to use any of the following last names:

  • the last name you used while you were married
  • a previous married last name, if you were married before
  • your last name at birth

You don’t have to apply for a legal change of name. You can just start using one of these last names.

If you want a completely new name

After your divorce, if you want to change your name to a name you’ve never used before, there’s a special procedure. You have to ask for the new name in your notice of family claim or counterclaim. Then you file the appropriate forms asking for the name change with your divorce application. (By taking this approach, you don’t have to get a certified criminal record check, which is otherwise a required step in applying for a legal name change.)

Some types of name changes require you to make an application. Here are the steps to apply to change your legal name.

To carry out a legal change of name, you need to apply to the BC Vital Statistics Agency. You must be at least 19 years old. As well, you must have lived in BC (or had a permanent residence in BC) for at least three months before making your application.

To start the process, you fill out an application for name change. You can complete the application form online or in person at a Service BC location.

With the application, you need to provide certain supporting documents and the required fee. The supporting documents vary, depending on your situation:

  • If you were born in Canada, you must provide an original Canadian birth certificate.
  • If you were born outside Canada, you must have certified copies of immigration and citizenship documents.
  • If you were married in BC, you must provide an original BC marriage certificate.
  • If you were married outside of BC or Canada, you must provide a photocopy of your marriage certificate.

In support of your name change application, you must get a certified criminal record check. This has to happen within 30 days of applying for the name change. The process starts with getting your fingerprints taken. Contact your local police or the RCMP for information on getting a certified criminal record check.

After your legal name change application has been processed and the name change registered, you’ll get a copy of your certificate of change of name. Now you can apply for other identification in your new name.

The name change will be recorded in government records. As well, if your birth or marriage is registered in BC, a note will be made on the original registration. Any later copies will be issued in your new name.

Who can help

The Vital Statistics Agency is the government office that deals with legal change of name applications.

The wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, has information on names and changes of name.

Options for legal help include legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in February 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Amber van Drielen, One World Law Group

Amber van Drielen, One World Law Group

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Family relationships in the section on Families + Children.