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May 24, 2005


I find names are like a random hat people feel obliged to wear. One of the first "givens" is one's name. I can see why, in the late sixties and early seventies, people experimented with creating their own names. Perhaps one of the attractions of some cults was the substitution of one's birth name for a name given by a power higher than one's parents and which connected with one's adult and spiritual self. I am guessing that the act of choosing a name in recent decades has corresponded in some cultures with an expectation of consumer choice and so lost, for better or worse, many of the other influences. I have always thought I would like to be called Lunar Module. But Coup de Vent is quite a good choice for me. And I am very grateful for all those who just use a version of the name without question. It is very freeing.

I think it was in 1981 that women in Quebec stopped changing their names when they got married (changes to the "Code Civil"). Now if you get married and you want to change your name, you have to go through this huge ordeal with paperwork. No one bothers and I think it wouldn't be perceived very well if a woman insisted on changing her name.

I remember that when those legal changes became effective, my mother, who married my father in 1949 and took his last name, started using her maiden name again. She mostly did it to make my father mad and it worked! ;-)

As to why people here call you by J.'s last name, perhaps it's because they know you are American and assume that you have the same last name, like most married couples in America do?

When I lived in San Francisco and married an American citizen, I kept my last name, which is Pagé. Everybody I met assumed that my husband was French (he was American). It took me about a year to realize that they thought I had married a French man because of my last name! Everybody just assumed that I had taken my husband's name.

Actually, unless you have a really good reason (usually: unpronounceable name), they won't let you change your name when you get married. (And if you marry in, say, Ontario, and change your name legally there, they won't let you change your name back if you divorce.) This law was enacted in the early 80s (I thought 82); I don't know if people who married before that could change their name back if they divorced.

I did not know this about the Quebecois and the French! How interesting, it sounds like the women may have had a little more equality in the past. I wonder if they were able to keep their property that came with them? My husband wanted me to keep my maiden name, but it's so long and difficult together with my first name, that even though his name is also foreign, it's shorter and a little easier.

"...unless you have a really good reason..., they won't let you change your name when you get married. (And... they won't let you change your name back if you divorce.)"

Well, that's a useful corrective to the exaggerated respect for Canada that's been accumulating in my brain with every surge of mass insanity here in the US. Bad enough they won't let people change their names, but much worse that this is a recent development instead of some remnant of Bad Old Days.

Note that this is just in Quebec, and it irritates remarkably few people that I know of. It's mostly, I think, to simplify bureaucracy -- your ID numbers are always made by the first three characters of your last name and the first of your first (so you, Mr. Hat, would be HATL), and presumably they don't want to be redoing everything when you get married -- or divorced. The law isn't ideal, but quite honestly, if the worst problem is that you can't easily change names, then I'll stay here, thanks.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.