Since 1981, Section 393 of Quebec’s Civil Code has forbidden women from legally taking their husbands’ surnames post-marriage.
Quebec established the law to combat societal pressure on women and to promote gender equality. However, not all women agree with the law and some find it restricting.
With this law, a woman’s maiden name remains her legal name after marriage, and she cannot change it without the authorization of the court—which isn’t an easy task.
A married couple may hyphenate each other’s surnames, and women can call themselves whatever name they’d like in an unofficial capacity. But only their birth name is legally recognized by law.
Quebec’s Civil Code Intent and Reception
The law’s primary intent was to protect women from societal pressures and ensure their freedom. However, as Dubé notes, it’s a delicate balance between protecting and improving freedom. Exceptions to the law exist, but they are rare and only apply in extreme cases. This rigidity applies even to Canadian women who relocate to Quebec after marrying in other provinces.
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Canada’s de facto first lady, recently used a hyphenated version of her name, igniting a discussion on this topic. Despite the legal stipulations, she chooses to use both her maiden name and her husband’s surname, symbolizing her personal identity and partnership.
For many Quebec women retaining their birth names may be a significant aspect of their cultural identity. This practice signifies autonomy and self-belonging.
Cultural Shifts and Modern Perspectives
Over the years, Quebec’s approach to married names has influenced cultural norms, including the trend of parents giving children two last names. While this was popular for a time after the 1981 law, its prevalence has decreased. The law’s existence remains a crucial part of Quebec’s identity, reflecting the province’s commitment to gender equality and individual autonomy.
In the broader context, Quebec’s approach to married names remains a unique case, raising important questions about personal freedom, cultural norms, and the evolving nature of marriage and identity in modern society.
As discussions around these issues continue, it becomes evident that the choice of a name, far from being a mere formality, is deeply rooted in notions of identity, tradition, and personal freedom. Perhaps Quebec’s Civil Code will be changed to allow more women freedom over their names in the future.