What’s in a name change?

August 15, 2012

I was listening to a song by Ke$ha the other day (don’t judge, I’m training for a triathlon and it’s decent workout music), and wondered whether you can actually use a character like the dollar sign in a legal name.  Certainly one must be able to use hyphens and apostrophes, but I wasn’t sure about characters or maybe even numbers.  Petitions for name changes are not uncommon.  The Westlaw Digest even has a KeyNumber for the topic (269k20).

I ran the following plain language search in all state and federal materials on WestlawNext:

using characters or numbers in a legal name

I found this: Julia Shear Kushner, The Right to Control One’s Name, 57 UCLA L. Rev. 313 (2009)

The introduction of that article mentioned some cases where requests to change legal names had been denied due to the names containing offensive, or obscene terms. The article goes on to discuss attempts to use character symbols or numbers in names (or as names), with varied results depending on jurisdiction:

The California Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion after the lower court denied Thomas Boyd Ritchie III’s request to change his name to III.  The supreme courts in Minnesota and North Dakota refused to change Michael Herbert Dengler’s name to 1069.  In 1976, a New York court refused to allow a feminist to change her last name from “Cooperman” to “Cooperperson.”
In contrast, other state courts have granted petitions for unusual name changes. The journalist Jennifer Lee successfully changed her name to Jennifer 8. Lee.11 In 2006, the California Court of Appeal found that a lower court did abuse its discretion in refusing to allow Darren Lloyd Bean to change his name to Darren QX Bean!.
57 UCLA L. Rev. 313, 315

 

Generally, the article notes, courts will deny attempts to change a name if they are doing so with fraudulent motives, to interfere with others rights, or with otherwise “nefarious intent.” 

The article goes on to provide a great history and general discussion about the right to determine one’s own name – whether the right is fundamental, regulatory concerns, and suggested reforms in the law.

Also in my secondary source result list was this ALR: Circumstances justifying grant or denial of petition to change adult’s name 79 A.L.R.3d 562 (Originally published in 1977).

By the way, not surprisingly, “Ke$ha” is Kesha Sebert’s stage name only as far as I can tell. That unique variation has yet to appear on the Social Security Administration’s Top Baby Names list.

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH REFERENCES

Prince’s unpronounceable Love Symbol No. 2 is copyright registration number VA 000832222.