Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and the mystery of the disappearing hyphen

The approved hyphen has vanished from the name of Justin Trudeau’s wife. What remains unanswered is: why?

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, places her hand over her heart while participating in a program at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016, to highlight Let Girls Learn efforts and raise awareness for global girl's education. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, places her hand over her heart while participating in a program at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016, to highlight Let Girls Learn efforts and raise awareness for global girl’s education. (Cliff Owen/AP)

What’s in a hyphen? Apparently a lot for the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On the weekend, at the end of a series of corrections in the New York Times regarding the official visit by the Prime Minister to the United States, was a rather cryptic one about an erroneous hyphen.

An article on Thursday about the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada to the United States described the visit incorrectly. It was an official visit, not a state visit. The error was repeated in the headline. And the article described incorrectly the length of a dress that his mother, Margaret, wore to a White House state dinner in 1977, when her husband, Pierre, was Canada’s prime minister. Instead of wearing a formal floor-length gown, Mrs. Trudeau caused a stir by wearing a dress that fell just below — not above — the knee. (The error about the dress was repeated in an article on Friday about Justin Trudeau’s meeting with President Obama on Thursday, and in an article on Friday about the state dinner for him.)

An article on Friday about a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada misstated one of the elements of the formal arrival ceremony for Mr. Trudeau. It was a 19-gun salute, not a 21-gun salute. The article also rendered the name of his wife incorrectly. She is Sophie Grégoire Trudeau — not Grégoire-Trudeau.

That raised a few eyebrows in the newsroom. For, at the end of the federal election campaign last October, the style arbiters at Maclean’s (including me) noticed that the Liberal party and news organizations were inconsistent in regards to her last name. Some used Trudeau, others Grégoire, while others had variations using both names. Our preference is to use the name preferred by the person. So I asked the magazine’s Ottawa bureau to check with the Liberal party as to which style was preferred by the prime minister-designate’s wife.

The answer was Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau.

That she’s adopted a hyphenated name generated headlines, including this Maclean’s piece by Anne Kingston on the latest example of surname morph in Canadian politics. Since the election we have used that authorized version, as do the main newspapers in Canada: the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and National Post. And it was used on the Liberal website as late as the end of October.

Now it’s gone. From the Liberal website. And recent press releases.

What’s left unanswered is why? Was the original hyphen an error? Did she try it out for a while and not like it? Why was it un-hyphenated so quietly?

Most Canadians care not a whit about a hyphen. Yet for those of us who keep track of such styles—Jay Z, not Jay-Z, ISIS not ISIL—it’s puzzling. I have asked the PMO and the New York Times for clarification as to style change, and who pointed out the hyphen issue to the newspaper. I’ll update if I get any answers.


Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and the mystery of the disappearing hyphen

  1. The use of Grégoire-Trudeau would, I think, be incorrect.

    She didn’t marry Mr. Grégoire-Trudeau.

    The use of the hyphen suggests a compound name. Most Quebeckers who didn’t know Ms. Grégoire (or her personal choice) would believe that her parents’ surnames were Grégoire and Trudeau; and, that when she was born they combined, or compounded, their names in that order.

    The Quebec Civil Code gives parents four choices for newborns: 1st parent’s family name, 2nd parent’s family name, or their names compounded, in either order (preferably with a hyphen).

    The office responsible for registering civil acts explains:

    “Your child can have a single or compound surname. The child’s surname may not have more than two parts, which must be derived from your surnames.
    If you, the parents, each have a single surname, your child may be given either of your surnames, or both, preferably joined by a hyphen.
    If one parent’s surname is Beaulieu and the other’s is Lajoie, the child’s family name may be Beaulieu, Lajoie, Beaulieu-Lajoie or Lajoie-Beaulieu.
    If you both have compound surnames, you may, if you wish, give your child a single surname derived from one of your surnames. If you want to give your child a compound name, you must make a choice, because the child’s surname can be composed of only two parts. It is preferable to join the two parts with a hyphen.
    The child of Jean Gagnon-Beaulieu and Marie Bouchard-Lajoie may be given the surname Gagnon, Beaulieu, Lajoie, Bouchard, Beaulieu-Lajoie, Gagnon-Bouchard, Gagnon-Beaulieu, Bouchard-Lajoie or any other combination that the parents choose.”

    In Quebec, a woman’s name, for legal purposes, does not change at marriage.

    Outside of Quebec, if Jean Smith marries Frank Jones and chooses to use his surname, she becomes Mrs. Jones, not Mrs. Smith-Jones or Jones-Smith; and, technically, she’s never Mrs. Jean Jones. She is Jean Jones or Mrs. Frank Jones.

    In the UK and other countries, the use of the hyphen can indicate the choice to give a new surname to the first born male to prevent the name of the mother’s family from dying out.

    • The prior comment is correct, but only covers the laws governing the naming convention of “children” per the Civil Code, not of adults due to a union.

      Also correct is stating “In Quebec, a woman’s name, for legal purposes, does not change at marriage” which is correct in this case, but the exact extract from the Civil Code goes further:

      “Both spouses keep their birth names after marriage and continue to exercise their civil rights under that name, i.e. they must use their birth name in contracts, on credit cards, on their driver’s licence, etc.
      This rule applies to all spouses domiciled in Québec, even if they were married outside Québec.
      However, women married before April 2, 1981 who were already using their husband’s surname before that date may continue to exercise their civil rights under their married name.”

      In short, the birth name is the single option recognized by Quebec for legal purposes after 1981, this without going through a very difficult process, and seldom approved official name change.

      This said, as opposed to the rest of Canada, her “legal” name is simply Grégoire. Hyphenated “Trudeau” or not, is totally irrelevant since it’s not her legal name, but simply a personal choice to be known as such.

      Please note, It is common and accepted practice, even more so with young families where the children carry the fathers name, or both. In this case, their last name is “Trudeau”.

      Assuming your children’s last name as a mother, even though not legally binding, is a matter of pride.

    • You are correct and MacClean’s could come up with something more news worthy!

  2. Is this what passes for news at macleans?
    What happens when when little mao trudeau-gregoire marries little Josef Guevara-Stalin?
    Will their children be little Fidel Trudeau-Gregoire-Guevara-Stalin?
    This is what I never understood about hyphenated names-when do they end?

  3. The country is waiting with bated breath for your update, Patricia.

  4. I’m still waiting for young JT’s Potty Training Pictures………

  5. She was a Québec resident, married in Québec well after 1981; she would have been a child bride in 1981. Her name is Sophie Grégoire. Now, we can all use stage or pen names, but that is her legal name.

  6. I married in 1968 in Alberta

    I kept my maiden name

    All these years later, we are still talking nonsense about women’s names

    Get a grip…CANADA.

  7. So disturbing this is considered news. No wonder this guy will be Prime Minister for the next 20 years no matter what lack of sound policy he has. Pathetic.

Sign in to comment.