In preparation of Canada’s 150th birthday this year on July 1, Maclean’s magazine has been surveying Canadians on a variety of subjects. One of those topics is the idea of surnames. More than half of Generation Xers and Millennials believe that married couples should share a last name (Interestingly, LESS than half of Boomers). It made me think about tradition, how it is affected by misogyny, and our personal choices.

First, the choice I made, the choice my spouse made, and the choice we should of made. At the time we got married, I will admit that I was much more conservative than I am today. The raving lunatic liberal was in there, but he hadn’t surfaced yet, so the perceived pressure of tradition and family expectation made me make a choice I now regret. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I do not dislike my family name, it is a perfectly acceptable surname, and I’m not looking to change it. However, I missed an opportunity. My spouse ended up changing her last name to match mine, however she sometimes adds her old last name as a second middle name, such as when she graduated from Brandon University a few years ago. She wanted her birth name to be somewhere on her diploma. Anyway, in the end, we ended up doing the traditional thing. This is where we missed our unique opportunity.

For those that do not know, my last name is Harp. My spouse’s previous last name is Harness. At the time of our marriage, I believe the law applied to females only (which I was going to challenge), but was later changed to what it is now:

Choosing a surname after marriage or entry into a common-law relationship

As a married person or a person living in a common-law relationship, you have a number of options for choosing your surname.

  • You may retain your present surname;
  • You may assume your spouse’s surname or common-law partner’s surname;
  • You may combine your present surname with your spouse’s or common-law partner’s surname, with or without a hyphen (it does not matter which surname you use first); or
  • You may assume your spouse’s or common-law partner’s surname and retain your present surname as a given, middle name.

All options apply equally to men and women.
If you were born in Manitoba, your birth certificate does not change to your married name or common-law partner’s name.
If you are living common-law, it will be necessary to file a declaration with Vital Statistics in order to change your surname. You will be charged a fee to obtain a Certificate of Election of Surname that will provide proof of your new name.

Now, we were going to test the wording of the law (highlighted portion), and combine the names without a hyphen, but not as they thought. Not Harp Harness or Harness Harp, what we had decided would be neat was to actually combine them into one name.


We both regret not doing it. There is a chance we might do it in the future, although at this point age is becoming a factor, and our kids need to be part of the decision. We should have done it before their births. That’s our regret.

The funny thing about the surname tradition in Canada and other English speaking countries is that it is not very good and really shows our misogynistic history. In the last number of years I have taken a few peaks at our family trees. I’m not a genealogist by any measure, but it occurred to me that our “tradition” has been misguided for a long time. Traditionally, females take on their husband’s name at time of marriage and all children end up with that name. It makes tracing the female lines of family trees more difficult.

Here is what I would like to see, and wish that we would have done this after not doing our first idea.

  • At time of marriage, a person takes on their spouse’s last name as a middle name. For example, my last names would be Harness Harp and my spouse would be Harp Harness (unless of course the province okayed Harpness)
  • Each child would take on either parent’s combo. In a more traditional arrangement, males would take on the father’s combo, females the mother’s combo

Think of how much easier genealogy would be if each generation gave clues to the previous generation’s female line. Also, think of how many surnames would still be in use had they not “ended” with no male heirs.

Our current system is a strange misogynistic tradition, and I kind of regret succumbing to the perceived pressure to participate.