Two surnames, with love: choosing your child’s last name

What’s in a name? We asked parents with firsthand experience

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Meet the Thorson/Borons. They’re your typical nuclear family: one mom, one dad, a house and two kids. Dad, Robert Boron, works in marketing and mom, Stephanie Thorson, is a program manager at the Clean Air Foundation. They live in Toronto and their kids, eight-year-old Abby and six-year-old Annika, both love swimming, dancing and reading stories.

Pretty average, right?

Here comes the confusing part: Abby has her mom’s surname (Thorson), while Annika shares her dad’s (Boron). So far, the kids haven’t had any real problems with confusion at school, but the dance class administrators have trouble finding them in the computer because they can’t remember under which surname the kids are registered. As for the kids, for the most part, they think it’s cool to have different last names, says Thorson (Mom, that is). “Abby likes that it’s something different that sets her apart from the other kids.”

Women keeping their own name or hyphenating their last name upon marriage is so common that it’s barely worth mentioning, but their passing of these names on to their children had us curious. Just how many parents are giving their children different surnames, whose last name are parents choosing most often, and how easy is it to change a child’s name in the first place?

Emma Einstein? I don’t think so
Unfortunately for those of you who’d like to give your kids a more sophisticated name like, say, Shakespeare or Picasso — you can’t. According to Julie Rosenberg, manager of media for Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, the only legally acceptable surnames for a baby are: the mother’s married, maiden or legally changed name, the father’s surname, or a combination of the two. So making up your own funky last name won’t cut it, unless you live in PEI, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan or BC where rules are a bit more lax. But even then, the name you choose can be rejected if it’s confusing, derogatory or embarrassing.

Congratulations, your new name will be delivered in 30 business days
Whether it’s due to divorce, marriage or just personal preference, changing your child’s surname is neither easy nor cheap. Although Rosenberg says the ministry hopes to have the waiting time reduced to between six and eight weeks by this spring, the process takes up to 50 weeks in Ontario. Depending on custody arrangements, for instance, both parents must consent to the name change. If one parent lacks custody, written notice of the impending name change must be delivered to him. The cost is anywhere from $10 to $185 for the change and up to $37 for amending the birth certificate, depending where you live. If you’re also changing your own surname, you’ll pay up to $185 for yourself and up to $25 for each child.

One area where having different last names has been made easier is travel. According to Dan Kingsbury from the Canadian Passport Office, “Parents are no longer allowed to include the names of their children…on their own passport.” So all children, regardless of age, must apply for and travel on their own passport. This means having a different last name from their parent or siblings won’t make a difference when leaving or entering the country.

The legacy continues
Although they’re a minority, some families do choose to hyphenate their last names. Diana Fairbairn (née Wiebe) and her husband, Scott, of Mission, BC, wanted to acknowledge both families when naming their kids. So five-year-old Maia and two-year-old Chloe were given a hyphenated last name — Fairbairn-Wiebe. “[Our daughters] are products of love between Scott and me, and I really feel it’s important their names reflect that,” says Fairbairn. “Also, I carried them for nine months, endured the severe morning sickness, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Don’t I deserve some credit?”

Like Fairbairn, Nathalie Vuille and her husband, Patrick Péloquin, of Greenfield Park, Que., gave their children a hyphenated surname. Vuille says her father brought his unique last name from France to Canada. “There aren’t many other people with my surname besides my own family,” she says. The knowledge that her brother likely won’t have children convinced Vuille to name five-year-old Laetitia and three-year-old Morgane Péloquin-Vuille. “I was the only one who could keep on the legacy of my father’s name,” she says.

A child by any other name…
According to the parents interviewed for this story, most kids don’t give much thought to their last name. But some, like Heather Bartlett’s 10-year-old daughter, Shayna Lewis, feel that their different last name sets them apart from their family. Bartlett, a mother of three from Orillia, Ont., gave Shayna her maiden name because she was unmarried at the time of her birth. Shortly after, Bartlett met and married David Bartlett, the father of her children Trey (six) and Ayden (two). Bartlett and her two younger children took David’s surname, which was hard for Shayna to understand. She’d frequently ask why her last name was different from the rest of the family. “It really bothered [Shayna],” says Bartlett. “I told her it was the same as my mom and dad, and she felt better” because she felt like she belonged to someone. But she still struggles with it.

Will that be one hyphen or two?
Shayna’s not the only one struggling. When Fairbairn’s youngest daughter, Maia, for example, started kindergarten she had trouble spelling her 14-letter last name. So instead of tediously spelling out Fairbairn-Wiebe, Maia simply writes F.W.
Bartlett faces problems over her children’s surnames almost daily. Whether it’s at school, the doctor’s office, Girl Guides or another social club, administrators can’t seem to get the kids straight. At school, the teachers got so confused by the fact that Shayna had a different last name from her mother, stepfather and brothers that they began naming her Bartlett. “They just put Lewis in brackets,” said Bartlett, “so they know that that is her real name.” And at the doctor’s office, assistants look for Shayna under Bartlett, but still can’t find her file.

The main problem that the Thorson/Borons faced was a bit of protest by eldest daughter Abby. When she first realized she had a different last name from her sister, Abby would use it as ammunition during arguments with her mom. “I wish I had Dad’s last name instead of yours!” she’d shout. Fortunately, Abby has outgrown this phase, and this tactic has yet to occur to younger sister Annika.

Keeping up with the Jones-Smiths
Although it may seem as though there are more children with hyphenated or their mother’s surname, there hasn’t been much of a change in naming trends over the past 10 years. According to data collected by the Vital Statistics offices in British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nova Scotia (the other provinces and territories were unable to provide this info), the trend to give children their father’s surname is still strong. With the exception of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, where only 59 percent and 35 percent of children, respectively, are given their father’s surname, a whopping majority of kids (more than 80 percent) in British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia are still named after dad.

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