Script 161 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script discusses changing your name, including when you get married or divorced, as well as changing a child’s name.
In general, you can use whatever name you want
This is true as long as you aren't changing your name for improper reasons, like avoiding paying your debts. However, important government documentation, such as passports and drivers’ licences, will only be issued in your legal name.
Marriage is one situation where people may change their names
Many people use their spouse’s last name when they marry. Actually, you have a number of choices for your last name when you get married:
- You can keep the same last name that you had before the marriage, for example, your previous married last name if you were married before. You don’t have to change your name if you don’t want to.
- You can take the last name of the person you’re marrying.
- You can use the last name that you had at birth or by adoption.
These changes can be made automatically. Other name changes require an application to the Vital Statistics Agency:
- You and your new spouse can apply for an entirely new last name. For example, Mary Smith and Robert Jones can be legally changed to Mary and Robert Black.
- You can apply to have a combined or hyphenated last name of both your spouse’s and your own last name.
How do you get ID in your new name after getting married?
You can start getting identification and other documents, like credit cards, business cards and so forth, in your new name as soon as you like. For automatic name changes, you’ll need to provide a copy of your government-issued marriage certificate. If you had to apply for a name change, you’ll need a copy of your certificate of change of name.
When do you need to apply for a legal change of name?
You have to apply for a legal name change if you want an entirely new last name or if you want a hyphenated surname.
How do you apply for a legal change of name?
You must be at least 19 years old and have lived in BC for three months before your application, or consider BC your permanent residence. In addition, you must be able to provide certain supporting documents such as:
- An original birth certificate if you were born in Canada
- Certified copies of immigration and citizenship documents if you weren’t born in Canada
- An original marriage certificate if you were married in Canada
- A photocopy of your marriage certificate if you were married outside of Canada
You may also be asked to show proof of residency. In addition, you may need consent forms if you’re applying to change the name of a child under the age of 19.
Note that the originals of the supporting documents that you provide with your application won’t be returned to you upon completion of the change of name.
The first step is to obtain a Change of Name application package
These forms can be obtained by picking them up in person from any Vital Statistics Agency or government office, or by ordering them from the Vital Statistics Agency by telephone, fax or email. The phone number for the Vital Statistics Agency is 250.952.2681 in Greater Victoria, and their website is www.vs.gov.bc.ca. Because specialized envelopes, specifically designed for the application process, must be used, these forms aren’t available for downloading from the Internet.
Fingerprinting and a criminal record check is next
Once you’ve completed the Application for Change of Name, take it together with the required fee and supporting documents to your local police or RCMP detachment. As of October 1, 2002, anyone 18 or over who wants to change their name must have their fingerprints taken. The officer taking the prints will then forward them in a sealed envelope, along with the application form and all related fees and documents, to the Vital Statistics Agency in Victoria for processing. Fees for fingerprinting must be paid directly to the local police or RCMP, and these fees are in addition to the fees for the Application for Change of Name.
Can a name change be refused?
The Vital Statistics Agency will decide whether to grant or refuse your application. It will be refused if it appears to be made for an improper purpose or the name change would cause confusion or embarrassment to anyone.
What happens if your name change is granted?
After your application has been processed and the name change registered, the envelope containing your fingerprints will be sent by the Vital Statistics Agency to the RCMP in Ottawa to conduct a criminal record check. The RCMP will then return your fingerprint record to you. Your fingerprint record won’t be kept on file with the local police detachment, the Vital Statistics Agency or the RCMP as a result of this application process.
A copy of your Certificate of Change of Name will be sent to you
This will allow you to apply for other identification in your new name.
The name change will be recorded in government records
Your change of name will be published on a private government Change of Name web site. As well, if your birth or marriage is registered in BC, a note will be made on the original registration, and any later copies will be issued in your new name. But a marriage registration won’t be changed where there has been a divorce or if the husband or wife has died.
Do you need a lawyer?
You don’t need a lawyer to prepare the Application for a Change of Name. But if you’re trying to change the name of a child in your custody and cannot obtain permission from the other parent, you should talk to a lawyer.
What if you divorce, or just want to return to a previous name?
Then you may choose any of the following:
- Your current married last name from before the divorce
- Your previous married last name (if you were married before)
- Your 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.
What if you’re divorcing and want a completely new name?
If you want to change your name to a name you’ve never used before, there’s a special procedure provided at the time of a divorce. You can file the appropriate forms with your application for the final divorce order, but you must have asked for this order in your Notice of Family Claim or Counterclaim. By using this procedure you can avoid the fingerprinting process and the criminal record check. (This procedure isn’t necessary if the change is back to your maiden surname or your previous married surname.)
Where can you get more information?
See the website of the Vital Statistics Agency at www.vs.gov.bc.ca, or phone the Agency in Victoria at 250.952.2681.
[updated March 2013]
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