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The Name Changes That Weren’t – And Some That Were

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Author: Melissa Gordon

Changing your name is a big decision to make. Even if one's reasons for doing so are not always the most soul-searching - more than a few people have just decided that they fancy a change - it is something that, if fully formalized and legally pursued, changes one of the most powerful parts of your identity. Together with your outward physical appearance and your voice, your name is one of the most basic identifiers by which people will recognise you. And, while you can buy disguises, undergo elocution lessons and take various other approaches to take care of the first two, it is hard to remove all traces. With your name, you can wipe the slate completely clean and start again if you want to. So it is a big change to make.

It is safe to say that Michael Herbert Dengler was aware of this when he undertook legal action in 1976 to undertake a new identity. It is equally safe to say that he had his reasons for wanting to change his name to "1069". Indeed, they are listed in the petition, but to list them here would take too much space. Suffice it to say that his reasons were personal philosophical ones that he felt necessitated the change. The Supreme Court for the State of North Dakota was, however, unwilling to allow this, opining that the use of a number as a name could be excessively confusing. As a compromise solution, the Minnesota Supreme Court offered the possibility of "Ten Sixty-Nine" three years later when Dengler tried again, a compromise he accepted.

In 2008, a nine-year-old girl had different reasons for asking a court in Wellington, New Zealand, for a name change. Having been christened "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii", the girl felt somewhat self-conscious about her name, which caused her to be teased at school. As a consequence of her action, the unfortunate Talula was made a ward of court so her name could legally be changed. What to? Well, that information seems thin on the ground, perhaps specifically because of the publicity the case attracted - so when the girl is asked her name and tells the asker her new name she is not instantly greeted with "Oh, hi Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii". Perplexingly enough, the same court has ruled that names such as Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter and even Violence are permissible. At least they blocked "Yeah Detroit", "Fat Boy" and "Sex Fruit".

Court decisions often differ between US states. For instance, Ohio resident Robert Handley asked in 2000 to be allowed to change his name to Santa Robert Clause, because of the existing legend of Father Christmas. A year later, however, the Utah Supreme Court was less restrictive when David Lynn Porter petitioned them for the right to be known as just plain Santa Claus, arguing that he had the right to select the name under which he went "within very broad limits".

Those limits were presumably the ones that prevented Russell Lawrence Lee from changing his name to "Misteri N*****" (author's censoring), where the second "I" of the first part is silent, and the second part is a well-known racial epithet. Though Lee himself was African-American and his use of the word in question was therefore judged not to be of insulting intent, the court ruled that Lee could call himself whatever he liked in conversation, but would not be given the court's permission to legally go by that name.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.

About the author: is a complete online resource that compares the legal services offered by various online companies. Find the best company to help you change your name at

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