Changing Your Name
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Amber van Drielen, One World Law Group in February 2020.|
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
What you should knows
What name you use
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.
If you get married
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.
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 get divorced
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.)
Applying for a legal name change
For a name change that requires you to make an application, here are the steps involved.
Step 1. Make the application
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.
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.
Step 2. Get a criminal record check
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.
Step 3. Certificate of change of name
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
With more information
The Vital Statistics Agency is the government office that deals with legal change of name applications.
- Call 1-888-876-1633 (toll-free)
- Visit website
The wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, has information on names and changes of name.
Free and low-cost legal help
Options for legal help include legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.
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