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(Lori Langille for The Globe and Mail)
(Lori Langille for The Globe and Mail)

The government changed my name Add to ...

The government stole my identity. Well, a third of it anyway. My middle of three names.

Recently, a person from the Office of the Registrar General of the province of Ontario called and asked for Jeffrey Duncan.

I identified myself as he but nicely pointed out, as I have been doing for most of my 56 years, that I go by my middle name, Ward.

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No, she insisted, she needed to speak to Jeffrey Duncan, not Jeffrey Ward Duncan.

Now, at this point I might have said that she had the wrong number and gone about my retired ways, for I haven't lived in the province of my birth for 37 years. But I had sent her office a letter some weeks earlier and knew that she was calling for me no matter what my name is, or apparently was.

My letter asked for a new copy of my birth certificate. They had already reissued it once to replace the barely legible original certificate, which was barely legal according to the passport office where I went for a renewal.

This reissued birth certificate, besides being not nearly as colourful as the original, lists me as: Duncan, Jeffrey.

I was born - or so my mother, my original birth certificate and my passport claim - Duncan, Jeffrey Ward.

Hence my letter that politely pointed out the error and asked for yet another reissued birth certificate. Hence the phone call to inform me that legally I am to be known as "Jeffrey," as that is how the government of Ontario has me recorded in the good book. Or is it the "good database"?

Actually, the young lady points out to me, books, or at least paper records, are likely to blame for my confusion. With a wise tone in her voice that belies her years, she says, "Computers didn't exist when you were born."

I wait for further enlightenment, but her pause lengthens and I'm still confused. Perhaps intuitively sensing that I have not hung up, she continues: "Your mother probably did fill out a birth-registration form that listed three names."

Probably? Was she calling my mother a liar?

"And that was used to type up your original birth certificate. But then that paper was sent to another office where they probably recorded only two names on the register. Computers probably wouldn't have made that mistake."

I realize I should probably hang up at this juncture, as I'm struggling to keep both my anger and my sarcasm meters at acceptable levels.

To this highly trained and intuitive young civil servant, I am merely an unknown number. Perhaps a misnamed number, certainly an old, dusty, paper-in-a-box number, but poignancy and personal appeals were obviously getting me nowhere.

It was clear what my next step needed to be. When I was a productive member of society, I was daily called upon to analyze complex situations, access resources, develop win-loss scenarios and formulate action plans. All of that came back to me in an instant and I knew what had to be done. I called Mom.

While not eligible to appear on a hoarding reality show, my mother does keep anything that might be useful some day. Kindergarten report card: plays well with others. Balance of insurance claim from a teenaged chipped tooth: $153.19. Original receipt for the registration of the birth of Jeffrey Ward Duncan: of course! Thanks, Mom. (Note to self: Buy another filing cabinet.)

This document is going to be my Rosetta stone. It has a file number, it has a code number, it has large red letters. Yet at the other end of the phone line, a gentleman at the Registrar General's office is remarkably unimpressed with my artifact.

An official confirmation letter from his office, even with red letters, is apparently not sufficient evidence that I am me. My options? I can apply to have my name legally changed back to what it was when I was born. The forms are available online, and I will have to pay the applicable fees. Amazing.

I have not yet applied to change my name because I am waiting for a response to my submission of the receipt.

And I admit I am wavering in my convictions. Know thyself. Do any of us really know who we are? Maybe this is an opportunity - I can reinvent myself. Ward was so … short. Jeffrey Duncan. Jeff Duncan. Jeffy. Jeffey? Do Jeffs usually have facial hair? Do we have a governing body? A support group?

Besides, how often do you need your birth certificate in this age of computers? Not if you renew your passport regularly. Not if you don't go too far outside the country. Maybe I should just use cash. No, Ward doesn't live here any more. You know, I've often thought I might be a love child between Mata Hari and Lawrence of Arabia. Prove me wrong. There were no computers back then.

The other day at my bank, I pointed out the apparent error of one of their automatic monthly withdrawals. A young staff member told me not to worry, that their computers don't make mistakes.

When I asked if she would visit me in prison if by some chance the computer was wrong, she just laughed. I was serious.



Ward Duncan lives in Dartmouth, N.S.

 

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