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(Leeay Aikawa for The Globe and Mail)
(Leeay Aikawa for The Globe and Mail)

I don't know what my name should be Add to ...

I usually make decisions fairly quickly - even when they're tough. This time is different. I am in a quandary over what to do with my name, and I've been in limbo for months.

I've been married three times. I've assumed the surnames of two husbands. I now have a third divorce under my belt (and a fourth marriage on the horizon) and, as a result, I have ID with a patchwork of names. It's time to consolidate.

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I am not a staunch feminist, but I do consider myself fairly liberated. Each of my partners/husbands has accepted my choice of surname as a decision that's mine alone. I don't believe, as some do, that assuming a partner's name is sexist or indicative of a lack of feminist conviction. Thanks to the feminist movements of the sixties, seventies and eighties, I have choices. And when it comes to my name, I get to pick.

 

I started to exercise my name-altering skills early in life. My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner, intended to call me Bonnie but wanted a name that would shorten, so they chose Bonita. In elementary school I declared I was changing the spelling of my first name to Boni. My teacher argued that I couldn't just change what was on my birth certificate.

Bonnie was not on my birth certificate, I explained. Bonita was. She agreed that dropping the "ta" made good sense. I've been Boni ever since.

I left home at 16, in the midst of a traumatic adolescence. Drugs, alcohol. A lot of alcohol. The loss of seven friends in alcohol-related car accidents. Parental separation. A gang rape. But I found strength within and settled down. At 21, I married and assumed my husband's surname. By choosing to become Boni Fox, I was deciding who I was going to be, creating a safe new identity that I could grow up with and into. I was shedding a troubled past, or so I thought.

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As Boni Fox, I built a career as a television reporter, news anchor and talk-show host. I was known publicly and professionally as Boni Fox and I wanted to keep it that way. When I married the second time I did not change my name. The son I bore took his father's surname. But by 40, marrying for a third time, I wanted a family name, a unifying public moniker for me, my young son and the new man in our lives. Gray was added to both our names, and I became Boni Fox Gray, on air and off.

That was 10 years ago. Marriage three has ended in divorce. My son is grown. My career is no longer quite so public. I am drug- and alcohol-free, physically and emotionally healthy. I am in another serious relationship. And, in late 2009, I received renewal notices for my health card and driver's licence, each bearing different versions of my surname.

I moved to Ontario from British Columbia shortly after marrying Mr. Gray, and discovered inconsistent rules. My Ontario health card could only list Gray. Fox Gray was okay for my Ontario driver's licence. My passport says Gray. My birth certificate and social insurance card still read Wagner. Travelling with a passport and driver's licence that don't match is a problem nearly every time.

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One option is to drop the Gray and revert to Fox - the one surname I have been consistently using for almost 30 years. But it turns out I can't do it easily, at least not in Ontario. I wasn't married in Ontario, and because I am no longer married to Mr. Fox, I have no legal right to reassume that last name. It can be done, but only months, mounds of paperwork and money later. It has made me acutely aware of just how much time, and life, has passed since I took that name as a young adult.

It would have been easier, simpler and cleaner to have kept Wagner in the first place, I admit. But I didn't. Why not just go back to Wagner now? My own name. My birth name. A name shared with some of the people most important to me in the whole world.

I can only say that I have a significant emotional block. My guts tighten at the thought. Going back to the name I bore during those turbulent teenage times, to once again be Boni Wagner when it was so painful when last I was her, is no small thing. Can I get over that? Perhaps. But I prefer to move forward, not back.

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Why not pursue a full legal name change - to stay Boni Fox Gray? I could. But the result includes a changed birth certificate and social insurance card, in effect erasing Wagner from the record books. I'm not comfortable with that either.

I could assume my new partner's surname, easily, quickly, even before we marry, and it wouldn't erase Wagner. But, a fourth name?

It's hard. I have lain awake at night, tossing and turning. I have choked during self-introductions, unable to spit out more than, "I'm Boni (pause). Nice to meet you." I've had countless conversations with my partner, friends, family and colleagues. I've received great - though conflicting - advice.

So, what's it going to be? I don't know yet but I am sorting it out. I have demonstrated from an early age the desire and capacity to change my name to one that works for me. Thanks to the sexual revolution, along with choices about career, family matters and other things, the choice of name will be mine, and I expect to be liberated by it.

Boni Fox Gray lives in Toronto.

 

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