What's in a Name?
For many in the rainbow community, change, growth and personal development are a continual facet of everyday life. Everyone’s journey to realizing their inner authentic self is different. Many are happy to better understand who they are over time. For some, this journey can also include making outward changes to reflect their growing understanding of their inner selves. This can take the form of establishing an identity that feels right and, for some, it includes choosing a new name.
When referring to objects or subjects, names help to define our expectations. If you have ever watched a cooking show where a contestant calls their creation a bechamel only to be woefully torn down because they have actually served a hollandaise, you know that names can be essential. But with humans, names are even more complex.
Your name is often gifted to you when you are born and can hardly define who you are as an adult. Names are “yours” but are used most often by others. When a person’s name doesn’t feel right, navigating life can feel like maneuvering through a minefield. Anytime someone calls your name, it can feel uncomfortable, and for some, downright painful.
For our trans and gender non-conforming siblings, this can be compounded with their gender presentation not matching with their traditionally gendered name. We spoke with a trans woman—“Sarah”—to discuss what names mean to her.
Sarah sits in her bedroom for our interview and is surrounded by an ambiance of traditionally “girly” items. Her room is filled with floral patterns, soft colours and items you might generally think of as “feminine.” Sarah makes an effort to present as “femme” and regularly does intricate makeup, does her nails and has lovely, flowing hair. “Now can you imagine me pulling out my credit card and it saying ‘Frank’?” she laughs. “I was already worried about making people uncomfortable in the washroom—most people know about that struggle—but I ‘pass’ as a ciswoman without fail until my birth name comes up.”
Recently, Sarah legally changed her name and says it’s made a world of difference. “At the doctor’s office, when the receptionist calls ‘Frank!’ they are dumbfounded when I stand up. When I would hand over my credit card, I would sometimes be turned away. They thought I’d stolen the card. And those are just the funny ones I can laugh about now! I’ve worked so hard to put in my time, invest in myself, my appearance, my aesthetic—when I’m called by my dead name [name given at birth], it’s like a form of erasure. Whether the person means to or not, it just hurts.”
Sitting together, we discussed the name change pathway for Canadian residents, how to navigate it, and what you need to know before diving in. To better help those who have not yet taken the plunge, we’ve assembled resources and our past experiences to put together a step-by-step for anyone looking to legally assign themselves a name that feels right.
“There is so much power in a name that people might not realize. Having your name—really, your identity—reflect who you are is just so much more comfortable. I don’t feel like I have to be on alert for triggers nearly as often. It almost feels like coming home. I can’t recommend it highly enough!”
How to Change your Name Legally in Ontario
- The following information is applicable to people who are 18 or older and seeking to change their own name only.
- People who are 16 or 17 can legally change their names in Ontario but will need the signatures of all parents/guardians in play to allow this.
- The framework is similar for parents looking to change the name of a child but additional steps will need to be taken.
- This information is a snapshot in time and any new legislation will need to be taken into account.
- If you have been recently married and only wish to assume the surname of your spouse, none of this applies and you need only your marriage certificate to enact this right.
Step One: Choose your Name
Before you begin the process, make sure you have your name chosen and that it feels right. Sarah felt that she knew what her name would be and didn’t have trouble with the choice. But for some it can be a bigger decision. Sarah suggests going to Starbucks and ordering under the name you are thinking might be right for you. When the barista calls out the name, think about how it feels. Since this might be a step you want to repeat more than once, you can also try asking a trusted friend or family member to help you try out names to get a feel for what’s right.
Step Two: Background Check
Once you have chosen your name, you will need to get a criminal record check which will be run on your new legal name. Make sure you know what name you want before you go. This is meant to ensure that there is no criminal record under your new name. For example, if someone was choosing to be called Charles Manson, they would alert you to the potential issues surrounding this name so you could make an informed decision.
Before you complete this step, make sure you are ready to proceed with the final ServiceOntario submission.
Cost: Approx $75-100
Time for processing: 1-2 weeks
*Note: Potential triggers in choosing a new name at this step. Making sure you are comfortable with your choice before you go will help to make this step significantly easier.
Step Three: Assembling the Necessary Paperwork
Before submitting your name change request paperwork to ServiceOntario, you will need to assemble the following:
- Birth certificate (if born in Canada)
- Certified copies of both sides of your most recently issues permanent resident card/Canadian citizenship (if born outside Canada)
- All original Canadian change of name certificates (if you have changed your name before)
- Original marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Photocopy of a piece of ID with photo (e.g. driver’s ID, passport, etc.) (all applicants)
- A photocopy of the receipt provided by the Commissionaires official who took your fingerprints (all applicants)
- A filled out copy of the Application for Change of Name
- This document can be found on the Service Ontario’s website
Cost: Cost of photocopies, if required
Time for processing: must be less than 30 days from time of fingerprinting
*Note: To be prepared, consider making photocopies of all documents you might need to submit. You may require a copy of these documents in the interim or they may be eligible to submit to ServiceOntario in place of the original.
Step Four: Submitting Your Application
All applicants must complete the Application for Change of Name document. The first page of this document will explain which pages are necessary and what to fill out. This application can be filed by mail. However, there is no opportunity to fix any mistakes with this option and may require you to start again. This option also requires that you have a notary public witness your signature and can add significant time and money to this endeavour.
If possible, taking your pre-filled application to a ServiceOntario branch location will allow their representatives to help you if you have any questions or need to fix anything on the forms. You can fill out everything except for your signature and the representative can witness it for you for an additional $15-20.
If you do not have some of the required documentation (e.g. your original birth certificate) there are options to allow ServiceOntario to do a search for the certificate for an additional fee of approximately $27.
You can attempt a walk-in appointment but reserving a time will allow you to have a dedicated staff member prepared to help you with all necessary steps.
Cost: Approx $137
Time for processing: 4-6 weeks (if all goes smoothly, see Note below for details)
- ServiceOntario has a toll free number you can call for help prior to your appointment. The representatives have a “cheat sheet” of next steps they can give you to help make the process easier.
- If you have had a legal name change before, if you are missing any documentation, or if there are other circumstances that ServiceOntario should know that isn’t covered in the application, they may have more questions which can delay the change. To avoid delays, it is a good idea to write a brief letter describing:
- What the situation is
- Why it is occurring
- What province to look towards for more information
- A date range for the occurrence
- What reasons have led to this
- Why they should take it into account
- How they can reach you for more information
Step Five: Wait for your Name Change Certificate in the Mail
You should receive your name change certificate in the mail within 4-6 weeks after your application was submitted. Every person born in Ontario who changes their name will automatically receive a newly issued birth certificate in their new name. This certificate will not include parental information. If you wish to obtain a birth certificate with parental information, of if you were not born in Ontario, see Step 1 under “Update All Relevant Documentation” below.
Once you receive this information you can then process the rest of your documentation.
Note: This will likely be addressed to your old/dead name despite the change now being legal. This may be a trigger moment for some people and may be bittersweet.
Step Six: Update All Relevant Documentation
Since every journey, identity and documentation set is different, we’ve left some brief notes on the major types of documentation you may need to replace as well as some associated costs and timelines.
*Note: Always be sure to check for up-to-date information and any conditional requirements for your personal needs.1. Order a new birth certificate
- Process your order online
- May also need two additional pieces of ID (one with photo)
- Cost: $20-30
- Timeline: approx 2-5 business days
2. Update your Provincial Healthcare Information
- Contact your plan administrator to complete a name change
- Cost: often free
- Timeline: contact admin for details
- Make an appointment through your local branch
- Documents required: change of name certificate and photo ID (pre-name change)
- Cost: dependant on categorization (likely $25- $40)
- Timeline: approx 2 weeks
- Complete a request at eservices.canada.ca
- A representative will contact you within two business days to let you know if you can be assisted virtually or if you have to attend in person
- Documents required: change of name certificate, photo ID (pre-name change), possibly more
- Cost: n/a
- Timeline: Depends
- Complete the application in person or by mail
- Review their website for more information
- Documents required: change of name certificate, original passport (if applicable), valid supporting IDs (outlined on the application documents)
- Cost: $120-150
- Timeline: 2-6 weeks (rush options available)
- Call toll free (and be prepared to wait on hold) or view their website
- Documents required: SIN and a recent notice of assessment
- Cost: n/a
- Timeline: Depends
- General practitioner
- Other medical providers
- Credit card company
- Cell phone company
- Internet service provider
- Firearms licenses
In total, the process can cost between $400-600 and take between 11-25 weeks depending on what documents need changing. However, once it’s all settled, Sarah says, “you can’t put a price on your comfort. You won’t be sorry for making this change for yourself.”
Thanks so much to Sarah for sitting down with us and sharing so much of their experiences!
The 519's Trans ID Clinic is offering financial support to adult LGBTQ2S+ community members looking to apply for a name change. If you would like to apply for support, or if you have any questions, please contact transidclinic@the519.