As a 25-year-old newly married woman, the process of changing my name was a joy - as far as bureaucratic processes go. Flashing my marriage certificate and a smile got my driver's licence, credit cards and various other accounts and identification documents changed, and usually earned me congratulations from the clerks who processed my requests.
Filling my wallet with my newly minted identity was an adventure - my first act of wifedom - and though it felt strange to be called Mrs. (it sounded so grown-up!), I was thrilled at this statement of faith in the permanence of my relationship.
But like so many marriages undertaken at the age of 25, mine turned out not to be permanent after all. Four years later, after an amicable separation, I faced the surprising realization that getting out of the name change was going to be harder than getting out of the marriage itself.
The first hint that it was going to be complicated came when I received a statement from my bank. I had submitted a name-change request through the mail, but my statement was still addressed to Mrs. Married Me.
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Oddly, listed as a borrower on my line of credit, there was a new person: Single Me. How my maiden self became a separate borrower on my married self's line of credit, I am not sure.
Banks, it seems, have some flaws in the way they deal with the name-change-in-reverse.
I sent my name change to one bank with all the required documentation (mentioning my impending divorce as the reason), and asked them to issue me a new credit card with my new-again name. In response, I received a letter addressed to Mrs. Married Me. In order to process the name change, they needed me to send back this letter with my new and old names and signatures. Strange, since I had included these in the initial letter I sent. But stranger to me was the Mrs. salutation - an odd choice for a woman who has informed you she is getting divorced.
Another bank changed my name just fine, but now has me on file as Mrs. Single Me. This person, of course, does not exist. Since I again mentioned my divorce in the name-change request, this seems sloppy at best.
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At a third bank I deal with, where I have one lonely credit card left over from my student days, the manager was adamant I could not change my name without a divorce certificate. This is not true - in British Columbia, either spouse has the right to use the other's last name or their own, and to change their mind about the decision at any time, divorced or not. Showing her my already-changed driver's licence and other credit cards did nothing to convince her.
She relented when I explained I had just come from changing my name on my SIN card, and that surely if the government could allow me to use my maiden name, changing it on a credit card with a $500 limit would not send the entire banking world into anarchy.
As for the SIN card, that was a belated name change I hadn't realized I would have to make. I had switched back to my maiden name months before with the Canada Revenue Agency. Only later did I find out that many government services - including Service Canada, the department that handles social insurance numbers - still listed me as Married Me. You'd think their information would be connected with the tax agency's, since your SIN is your identifier for paying taxes, but that's not the case.
So, off to the Service Canada office I went. The clerk took one look at my birth certificate and said there was a problem. It seems I had an old-style birth certificate that lacked a registration number. It was an official, original document, but it did me no good. So before I could get my name back, I had to get a new birth certificate. The funny thing is, you can request a birth certificate online, without showing one speck of ID to anyone. A week later, I had my new birth certificate on hand and a new SIN card on order.
The last government stop for changing my name (I think - I may yet discover more agencies who have me on file as Married Me) was Passport Canada. It used to be possible to amend a passport for a name change, but not any more - now you have to get a brand new one. When I told the clerk why I wanted a new passport even though my old one was still valid for more than a year, he said: "Ah, you are reclaiming your birth name. That is a valid reason."
You know, he's quite right; I like the way he thinks. This process is reclaiming who I was, rather than admitting the defeat of someone I tried to be.
And I can tell you one thing: I'm all for giving marriage another try, but I'll be keeping my birth name, thank you very much. I just don't have the stomach for the paperwork.
Christina Newberry lives in Vancouver.
Illustration by Kate Lemay.