Canadian Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

Canadian names generally follow English naming conventions. However, there is slight variation between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, with the latter following some French naming conventions.

 

English Conventions

  • English naming conventions arrange names as follows: [first given name] [middle given name(s)] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Justin BROWN (male) or Emma Marie CLARKSON (female).
  • One’s ‘first name’, known as a ‘personal name’ or ‘given name’, is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes before the family name. 
  • The ‘family name’, known as a ‘surname’ or ‘last name’, is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s
  • Most English Canadian names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children are given their father’s family name. 
  • Some parents may choose to give their children a hyphenated surname that contains both the surname of the mother and father (e.g. Justin WILSON-BROWN). 
  • It is traditional for (English-speaking) Canadian women to adopt their husband’s family name at marriage. However, this is not an enforced rule.
  • Many Canadians also have a ‘middle name’, which is a secondary given name written between the person's first name and their family name. For example, Emma Marie CLARKSON’s middle name is ‘Marie’.
  • Middle names are optional and are rarely used in daily life. However, most Canadians have one or multiple. 

 

French Conventions

  • French naming customs generally follow the same conventions as English names, i.e. [first given name] [middle given name] [FAMILY NAME]. However, there are a few differences.
  • It is a French custom for women to retain their family name throughout their lives and not adopt their husband’s name at marriage.
  • Hyphenated surnames are very common amongst French-speaking Canadians. The Quebec civil code allows a couple to combine at most two of their surnames, with or without hyphens. Thus, a couple named Joseph BOUCHARD-TREMBLAY and Marie DION-ROY could give to their children the surnames BOUCHARD, TREMBLAY, DION, ROY, BOUCHARD-TREMBLAY, DION-ROY, BOUCHARD-DION, BOUCHARD-ROY, and so on.
  • Some older French Canadians may have three (non-hyphenated) given names in accordance with Catholic baptismal naming conventions. This is arranged as follows: [gender-specific name] [godparent’s name] [personal name] [FAMILY NAME]. Only the third given name is used to address/identify the person on a daily basis.1 
  • For example, Joseph Jacques Jean CHRÉTIEN: ‘Joseph’ indicates the person is male, ‘Jacques’ is the name of their godfather, and the person is addressed as ‘Jean’ for all intents and purposes of everyday life. 
  • Under this convention, the names ‘Marie’ (female), ‘Jean’ and ‘Joseph’ were most commonly used to indicate a person’s gender. Therefore, it is very common for multiple siblings to have the same first name (e.g. Marie Anna Yvonne TREMBLAY, Maria Anna Louise TREMBLAY).
  • This traditional French Catholic naming custom is no longer common. However, it continues to be seen in the names of older French Canadians (born 1960s and prior).

 

Names

  • Most Canadian parents choose their children’s personal names based on aesthetic appeal.
  • The most popular first names for Canadian children in 2019 were Sophia, Olivia, Emma, Amelia, Aria (female) and Jackson, Noah, Liam, Lucas, Benjamin (male).2
  • Many of the most common names have Christian origins, e.g. Noah, Joshua, Michael, Grace.
  • Non-gender specific names have also gained popularity in recent years (e.g. Peyton, Charlie, Riley).
  • The most common Canadian family names have a British origin, e.g. SMITH, BROWN, MCDONALD, WILSON, JOHNSON.
  • It is common for Indigenous Canadians to carry family names of French or English origin.

 

French Names

  • It is common for French-speaking Canadians to have French names, e.g. Adèle, Amélie, Éleanore (female) and André, Antoine, Jacques (male).
  • Many French names may have an English translation. For example, the name ‘Guillaume’ is ‘William’, ‘Maxime’ is ‘Max’.
  • Many French names have Christian origins. For example, ‘Pierre’ is named after Saint Peter.
  • It is common for French Canadians to have a first name that is hyphenated, e.g. ‘Jean-Marc’. These names are considered to be a single unit rather than two separate names.
  • Many traditional French names are gender-specific, meaning that masculine names can be made feminine and vice versa by adding or omitting a few letters. For example, the masculine name ‘Jean’ in its feminine form is ‘Jeanne’.
  • The most common family names among French-speaking Canadians are TREMBLAY, GAGNON, ROY, CÔTÉ and GAUTHIER.3

 

Addressing Others

  • Canadians generally address one another verbally by the first given name alone. 
  • In formal situations, people may use a person’s title (e.g. Mr., Mrs., Ms., Doctor, etc.) followed by their family name.
  • Middle names are almost never used to address a person, unless quoted on formal/legal documentation.
  • An exception to this rule applies if someone’s naming follows French Catholic naming conventions (see above).

 

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1 Schneider, 2012
2 Bee, 2020
3 YourFolks.com, 2020

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