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Can you name your child anything you want?

Deciding what to name your child is never easy, especially when there are several opinions involved.

If you want to give your child an unusual name, can you legally do so in Canada?

While you may be able to do so, there can be restrictions as to what you can name your child depending on the province in which you reside.

Provinces/territories are responsible for registering the birth of a child, as well as their name. There are some requirements each province and territory sets out that parents have to follow but that doesn’t necessarily restrict parents from giving their children unusual names.

What are some of the naming requirements and restrictions?

For example, Quebec sets out the following requirements:

  • Not be longer than four names;
  • The name that appears first in the birth declaration must be the name that the child will be called on a regular basis;
  • One of the parent's family names can be used as one of the child's first names;
  • An initial of one of the parent's family names can be used as one of the child's first names.

However, be aware that even if you respected these rules but the government finds the name too unusual, you may be asked to change the name that you have chosen for your child. This is because the government of Quebec is concerned that the child might suffer due to an unusual name.

What are some other provinces that have strict name restrictions?

Next to Quebec, the British Columbia government, too, spells out what the requirements are in naming a child under the Vital Statistics Act.

The act allows courts to intervene in cases in which the name would not be in the best interest of the child.

Saskatchewan also restricts children’s names. The name cannot be “confusing or offensive” and the government also states that “eHealth Saskatchewan may refuse to register a name change if, in the opinion of the Registrar of Vital Statistics, it would not be in the best interest of the public to do so.”

What about the other provinces/territories?

Interestingly, in Ontario and most other province and territories, there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of concern over unusual names. While there are some restrictions to naming a child in Ontario, mainly that the parents can’t choose symbols or numbers, otherwise the province relies on the parents to give their child a proper first name.

Does that mean anything goes in the provinces/territories without strict naming laws?

That is questionable. While you may get away with naming your child something like Strawberry, you will likely not get away with naming it something completely outrageous, such as naming a baby after a notorious genocidal dictator.

I you want to verify whether you can name your child a certain name you may want to consult a lawyer in your province/territory.

Read more:

Registering the Birth of a Child Quebec

Illegal Baby Names: This Province Can Reject Your Baby Name