VPS Newsletter - What's in a Name?

Written on 03/03/2021
Alycia Mann

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 local 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 BC 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 British Columbia

*Note: The following information is applicable to people who are 19 or older and seeking to change their own name only. 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: Fingerprints

Once you have chosen your name, you will need to visit the Commissionaires office to get a criminal record check as well as digital fingerprints taken. The criminal record check 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. Getting your fingerprints taken is meant to ensure that you are not a criminal whose prints are “in the system” under a warrant for arrest.

Before you complete this step, make sure you are ready to proceed with the final Vital Statistics submission. Once you complete step two, you will only have 30 days to complete the process through to step four.

Cost: Approx $77.50
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 a bit easier.

Step Three: Assembling the Necessary Paperwork

Before submitting your name change request paperwork to vital statistics, 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 Vital Statistics Agency’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 Vital Stats 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 by getting new fingerprints if the 30 day time limit runs out. 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 Vital Statistics 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 $17.

If you do not have some of the required documentation (e.g. your original birth certificate) there are options to allow Vital Stats 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 (+$27 per “search event” if required, +$17 for “witness” signature)
Time for processing: 4-6 weeks
*Note: Vital Statistics 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.

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. Once you receive this you can then process the rest of your documentation.

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 at ecos.vs.gov.bc.ca
    • May also need two additional pieces of ID (one with photo)
    • Cost: $27
    • Timeline: 2-5 business days
  2. Update your Medical Services Plan account (if applicable)
    • Contact your plan administrator to complete a Group Change Request form HLTH 170* (ask administrator to confirm once change is updated so you can continue on to your driver’s ID)
    • Cost: often free
    • Timeline: contact admin for details
  3. Driver’s ID
    • Book your appointment through the ICBC online system or call in to the toll free phone number—actual appointment is in person
    • Documents required: change of name certificate and photo ID (pre-name change)
    • Cost: dependant on categorization ($17-31)
    • Timeline: approx 2 weeks
  4. Update your SIN
    • Complete a request at eservices.canada.ca/en/service/
    • 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), updated ICBC card
    • Cost: n/a
    • Timeline: Depends
  5. Update your Passport
    • Complete the application in person or by mail
    • 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)
  6. Inform Canada Revenue Agency
    • Call toll-free and be prepared to wait on hold
    • Documents required: SIN and a recent notice of assessment
    • Cost: n/a
    • Timeline: Depends
  7. Other Agencies to Inform
    • Employer
    • General practitioner
    • Dentist
    • Other medical providers
    • Credit card company
    • Bank
    • 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!

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