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 What’s in a name?

William Shakespeare once said:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”

This is a classic line from Romeo and Juliet where Shakespeare tries to make the point that a name is meaningless. Unfortunately for Shakespeare, in today’s world a name is very important.

One of the very first things we are taught as children is to say our name. This is reinforced when we begin school and one of the first sentences we learn when we take French. Our name identifies us and links us to our history – our educational history, employment history, credit history, etc. What happens then when you decide to change your name or worse yet, when someone steals your name?

In the Filipino culture, as well as the North American culture, the majority of women who marry take on their husband’s name. Consequently, they need to go about legally changing their name after the wedding. This can prove tiresome and sometimes cause confusion for many women who have developed careers and professional reputations with their maiden name. Suddenly, they are using a different name that has no connection to their previous name. The connection that they are one in the same person is not always made automatically. In today’s age, many women are choosing to hyphenate their names to provide a more visible connection to their previous name. Others simply choose not to change their name at all.

The issue of changing one’s name after marriage always intrigued me. The “norm” all depends on where you were raised. For example, in the French and Vietnamese cultures, women keep their names after marriage and changing it to their husband’s name is never an issue. Yet, in the North American and Filipino culture, there are some segments of society who will question a woman’s decision not to change her name.

Deciding to change one’s name legally is a very personal decision. But, ultimately the choice is for that individual to make. What happens, however, when your name and therefore your identity is stolen from you? Identity theft if very prevalent in today’s computerized society. The one thing I will always remember from my orientation at the Department of Foreign Affairs is this: Never carry your social insurance card on you. If you know you need it because you are applying for a job or a loan, then of course bring it with you. But don’t make a habit of carrying the card on you as a piece of identification. Loosing this card is the key to having someone steal your identity. Once a thief has your social insurance number, they can easily obtain a credit card under your name or they could obtain other identity documents under your name.

Even if your identity is not stolen, what about mistaken identity? Have you ever wondered how many people share your name? Are you curious? If you are, try this. Go on the Internet and google your name and see how many hits you get. After I tried this I discovered two Alona Mercados who both have accounts with Friendster and both of whom live in the Philippines. A third hit came up for Alona Mercado Guevarra who attended ASK School of Management in Singapore. Could any of these other Alonas ever be mistaken for me? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Also, have you ever looked in the phonebook to see how many people share your last name? I remember when I was growing up, aside from our entry in the phone book there was one or two other Mercados listed. Now, there are over a dozen different listings. Does this mean that my family has suddenly grown? Hardly. My Tatay was the only male in his family so the majority of my relatives do not have the surname Mercado. In fact, aside from my parents (Lito & Minda), my aunt (Luzonica), and my sister (April-Lynn) I have no other relatives in the City of Winnipeg with the last name of Mercado. (Sure my two brothers out in Vancouver, my sister in Saskatoon and my Lolo’s younger brother’s family who are all in Toronto are all Mercados but in Winnipeg, my list of Mercado relatives is very slim.) Consequently, with so many Mercados in our city now, could a situation of mistaken identity arise? Of course it can. In fact, I am told that there is another April Mercado in Winnipeg who is not my sister. So, how do you then protect your name?

The use of your full legal name is the key to ensuring that you are not mistaken for someone else. That is why when you purchase a house or get a will or power of attorney drawn up it is best if you use your full legal name. You many never use your full legal name in most day to day settings, but when it comes down to proving that you are in fact “You”, your full legal name, date of birth, social insurance number, mother’s maiden name and city of birth are the normal items used to prove identity. That is why you need to ensure that you keep your important documents safe because the loss of one or more of those documents will not only mean the inconvenience of spending hours cancelling cards and accounts and getting new identity documents, it could also lead to the loss of your identity.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Should you require legal advice on a specific issue relating to the contents of this article, please seek the services of a legal professional. Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practicing in Winnipeg with the law firm of MONK GOODWIN LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, business and commercial transactions, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or

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