Skip to main content
facts & arguments

DANIEL FISHEL/The Globe and Mail

I loathed my given name. I was a first-born daughter, and consequently saddled with both my distaff and spear heritage, lest no subsequent offspring arrive.

My first middle name was my mother's; the second my maternal grandmother's, and the surname was my father's, with several generations of Canadian-Irish stock in the calligraphed family tree.

The forename was an anomaly. Apart from being a hybridized male proper noun – like Roberta or Edwina – it had no meaning whatsoever.

I believed for years that my namesake was a nurse present at my birth in a Red Cross outpost hospital in Northern Ontario who had disappeared almost as soon as I was born. When I was in my 50s, my mother dismissed this notion – "whatever gave you that idea?" – and substituted a new story that further diluted the significance of what I was forced to answer to.

At home, I had a nickname, chosen because the "proper" name was unpronounceable by my two younger sisters (who could have, had my baptism been delayed, absorbed some of the traditional nomenclature). I liked my nickname and responded to it wholeheartedly.

However, it was with clenched teeth that I endured the need to state, repeat, then spell out my four-word title at the beginning of every school year. The incredulous responses of teacher and classmates provoked crimson blushing each September, from primary school through university.

I left Canada for New Zealand, which offered a girl of 20 novelty, independence and summer. In short order, I married a Kiwi who facilitated a welcome shortening of my name.

He condensed the repeated letter of my nickname so that I became a single letter and a noun. I LOVED that. And I loved it even more when I became a furniture maker with a handle that conveyed a persona as well as a vocation.

I functioned happily on a day-to-day basis except if the day required signing a legal document, applying for a passport or paying with a credit card. The disdained legal name had to come out of hiding before the transaction could occur. I hated those moments and vowed to eliminate them while I travelled to and lived in various international locales.

Back in Ontario in the late 1990s, investigations uncovered what was required to change my name. In due course, an application with the newly constituted moniker, necessary documents with notarized signature, and required fee were mailed.

The revised title would be the single letter, mother's name, grandmother's name and husband's name. But the whole package was returned, request denied. The Province of Ontario declared: "An initial is not a valid name." Bureaucrats denied me the validity granted to such distinguished notables as T.S. Eliot and E.E. Cummings. Even Ms. Lang – the Juno-and-Grammy-award-winning Canadian – was being addressed and accepted as kd (in lower case, too!). But I, of little stature, could not be similarly nominated.

More years of mangling by airline clerks and bank managers went by until the final straw when, returning to New Zealand, I enrolled for tertiary studies.

The university administration declared that although I could register under a "preferred" name, my legal name had to be used in all transactions. Every time I photocopied a document in the library, ####### came up on the tabulator. I realized, with horror, that when I received my degree the abhorred meaningless name would appear on the hard-won parchment.

Post-haste, I again did investigations, provided documents and fee, and dispatched the envelope to government offices. By return mail, I finally received my preferred identity: D Wood.

Recently, residing in Canada, I took my embossed New Zealand document to renew my Canadian passport. Officialdom felt it necessary to query my guarantor about why I became an initial. Answer: "Because she never liked her given name."

This action and the previous refusal to consider an unusual, but by no means unprecedented, name change should raise alarms for the future of Canada. It seems the country cannot deal with individuals or exceptions.

Since returning to the land of my birth, I have been frustrated by the assumption, both provincially and federally, that everyone lives an orthodox, sequential life.

For example, I qualify for an Ontario seniors reduced co-payment for drugs, yet cannot apply because my absences from the country mean I have none of the obligatory financial documents.

Similarly, I qualify for old age security but am obliged to provide proof of every period when I was resident in Canada. How many Canadians, having been expatriates even once, can produce official records to account for their existence since they were 18?

I am concerned that the many young people today who have to travel overseas, seek contracts or deviate from the no-longer-viable norms in order to support themselves will be shortchanged.

What's in a name? Identity and essence. Can Canada's identity embrace an ideal of Comprehensive?

D Wood lives in the Niagara Region.