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Canadian naming conventions vary based on whether one is Aboriginal Canadian, English Canadian or French Canadian.
English Canadian names
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In English Canada, names follow much the same convention as they do in the United States and United Kingdom. The first name on the birth certificate is the name the child is expected to go by, although use of a middle name in everyday life is not uncommon. The last name is usually the same as the father's last name though it is not unheard of for children to take their mother's last name, or for both names to be hyphenated. Middle names are optional and are generally only used on official documentation. Multiple middle names are rare but are officially recognized.
With the exception of Quebec, either spouse, though usually the wife, has the right to assume the last name of their spouse after marriage, as long as it is not intended for the purposes of fraud. Getting married does not result in a legal change of name or automatic change to your identification or records. Their marriage certificate is considered proof of their new name.
One of Canada's chief values is multiculturalism. As such, it is not uncommon to see names that follow patterns differing from the English and French naming conventions.
French Canadian names
- Given names in Quebec
In French Canada, up until the late 1960s, children of Roman Catholic origin were given three names at birth (usually not hyphenated): the first, Marie or Joseph, usually indicated the gender of the child. The second was usually the name of the godfather or godmother, while the third and last given name was the name used in everyday situations. Thus, a child prenamed Joseph Bruno Jean on his birth or baptismal certificate would indicate the baby was a boy, the godfather's first name was Bruno and that the child would be called Jean (and not Joseph) for all intents and purposes of everyday life. A real-life example of this naming convention was that of Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was born Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien.
Although it is still permitted to list multiple names on a birth, it is uncommon for people to even be aware of their other given names, and the practice of using religious names became increasingly rarer after the Quiet Revolution as baptism ceremonies gradually became less common. The Quebec government officially recommends not using more than four given names.
- Surnames in Quebec
Currently, most couples give the child the surname of the father, though the Quebec civil code allows a couple to combine at most two of their surnames, with or without hyphens. Thus a couple named Joseph Bouchard-Tremblay and Marie Dion-Roy could give to their children the surnames Bouchard, Tremblay, Dion, Roy, Bouchard-Tremblay, Dion-Roy, Bouchard-Dion, Bouchard-Roy, etc. In Quebec, name change upon marriage is no longer automatic, and is difficult or impossible to do if desired. Requests for a name change in Quebec require a reason, and requests to adopt a husband's name after marriage have been denied in the past.
- The "nom-dit" tradition
Until the late 19th century, several families also had a "nom-dit" tradition. This was a family nickname (literally a "said name"). The origins of the noms-dits were various. Some noms-dits were the war-name of the first settler, while he was a soldier: Hébert dit Jolicoeur (Pretty Heart, cf. Braveheart), Thomas dit Tranchemontagne (mountain chopper). Some denoted the place of origin of the first settler: Langevin (Anjou), Barbeau dit Poitevin (Poitou). Others probably denoted a characteristic of the person or of his dwelling: Lacourse, Lépine, Larivière.
Aboriginal Canadian names
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Use of titles in Canadian English
Courtesy titles may be used on official documents in Canada, and are frequently used in formal situations such as business correspondence or meetings.
As in other English-speaking countries, the following courtesy titles are used by default or can be chosen by the bearer when completing a form or application:
- Mr. (referencing any male)
- Mrs. (Missus) (referencing a married, widowed, or divorced female)
- Miss (Miss) (referencing a single young female)
- Ms. (Miz) (referencing a female of any age without specifying her marital status).
When referring to a woman whose marital status that one does not know, it is common to write Ms., but no specific rules apply. Using a courtesy title in a non-formal situation may be construed as wrong and awkward.
Although each person has one of the above titles in their name, other titles may be acquired through various ways. The titles of Dr. (doctor) and Prof. (Professor) are acquired through schooling. Often the titles for professors and medical doctors are used instead of the Given name of the individual when being said by one of the individuals students or patients. This does not apply, however, for friends and family and is strictly prohibited to those using the service of the individual and does not know the individual well enough. An example would be for a medical doctor named Mark. His friends would say, "Hello, Mark," but his patients would say, "Hello, doctor."
The parliamentary titles Hon. (honourable) or Rt. Hon. (right honourable) are given to serving cabinet ministers, either federal or provincial/territorial and in some cases are retained for life; for example in the case of retired prime ministers. Senators are designated with the prenominal title Sen. (Senator) while in office.
Foreign titles, such as Sir and Count, are not used; the acceptance of foreign honours by Canadian citizens is not permitted under the Nickle resolution and subsequent Acts of Parliament.
Suffixes always come after the family name, and are also acquired for various reasons. Suffixes are only used in oral communication when necessary, and are also rarely written on the wish of the individual bearing the suffix.
The most common suffixes are Sr. (Senior) and Jr. (Junior). When an individual names their child after themselves or another family member (not necessarily immediate), that individual then bears the suffix Sr. and the offspring bears the suffix Jr., which may also be replaced with II (the second). The suffix "III" is used after either Jr or II and like subsequent numeric suffixes, does not need to happen in one family line. For example, if John and Bob Gruber are brothers and if Bob has a son before John, he will call his son John, II. If John now has a son, his son is John, Jr. As time passes, the III suffix goes to the first born of either John Jr or John II. This is how it is possible and correct for a Jr. to father a IV. Such suffixes are rare amongst French-Canadians due the strongly generational nature of most French given names.
Other completely accepted suffixes include:
- M.D. (Medical Doctor)
- MP (Member of Parliament), for federal elected politicians
- Abbreviations for provincially elected politicians:
- MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly)
- MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament, Ontario only)
- MNA (Member of the National Assembly, Quebec only)
- MHA (Member of the House of Assembly, Newfoundland and Labrador only)
MP and its provincial or territorial equivalents may be followed by the name of the constituency in which that member was elected. For example: Buddy Johnson, M.P. London North-Centre. However, the constituency name or similar designations are not shown of official documents outside of parliament and is never used in casual communication.
Postnominals granted under the Canadian honour system include PC (Privy Councillor, granted to federal cabinet ministers and some other senior politicians including leaders of opposition parties); CM (Member of the Order of Canada); OC (Officer of the Order of Canada); and CC (Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank of that order). For a list of other postnominals, including professional titles and orders, provincial honours, and honours in gift of the Crown, see List of post-nominal letters in Canada.
- Statement of Live Birth Form ServiceOntario.ca
- Assuming/Unassuming a Spouse’s or Partner’s Name ServiceOntario.ca
- Criteria to apply for Social Insurance Number ServiceCanada.ca - See section 'Supporting Documents'
- Child's given name(s) Directeur de l’état civil, Quebec
- Child's surname Directeur de l’état civil, Quebec
- Marriage - Spouses' names Justice Quebec
- Change of Name Directeur de l’état civil, Quebec
- Quebec newlywed furious she can't take her husband’s name Canada.com News, August 8, 2007
- Canadian Genealogy Centre