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ATPM 9.11
November 2003




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The Candy Apple

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

What’s in a Name?

I just read about some folks who are changing their legal names to match their online handles. At first I was amused, but after a moment I realized this reveals all sorts of interesting things about us as individuals.

Note: Every name I have used in this column is completely made-up, so if you see a name that sounds cool, it’s not anyone I know or have read about. It is completely made-up.

The people in the story said that their friends knew them by their online handles anyway, so when they changed their legal names, they felt as if they were now “more” themselves than they had been before. One person, having been through a divorce, planned to do a name change anyway, to shed a surname that had negative feelings attached to it. He realized he might as well change his name to something that reflected his personality more than Joe, so he changed it to TankCommander. His friends called him Tank anyway, and that’s how he thought of himself.

I absolutely love the idea that we can change our names at any time and for any reason; all we have to do is pay a court a few bucks. I suppose this may not be the case in other countries—readers, please comment at the end of the column if you have any information about non-United States policies. I am curious how much the liberty to change one’s name reflects the liberties of a society.

One of my online handles is a combination of a nickname I had in high school, plus part of a surname that I like. We’ll call it CarterSkip. In the online community where I spend the most time, we are too lazy to write out entire handles for some folks, preferring to use abbreviations. If we had that TankCommander guy in our group, he’d be referred to as either Tank or TC. So my CarterSkip handle goes as either Carter, Skip, or CS. Since we already have someone else with the initials CS, I go by CK instead. I love the idea that I could go to a court and pay $40 or thereabouts, to change my legal name to CK.

I can see that a problem arises when you use different handles in different groups. We do that in real life, too, playing various roles in different social settings. The trick, for the name-change scenario, would be selecting the one that best reflects your personality.

In my favorite group, we have people named after actors, Roman demigods, comic strip characters, all sorts of stuff. Just like in your online groups. I can imagine how it would be fulfilling to take on some of the characteristics of those characters, by legally taking on their names. I toyed for a moment with trying out the name of one of my favorite TV characters (Zbornak), but it is no more unwieldy than my own surname. Unless I dropped down to just the one name, it lacks the element of cool I’m looking for.

Maybe I could just persuade people to call me Z…

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Reader Comments (5)

Ed Williams · November 17, 2003 - 19:45 EST #1
Dear Ellen,

You write very well, and one of your TP reviews was very persuasive, but this column strikes me as purile.


Ed W.
Ellyn Ritterskamp · November 17, 2003 - 20:05 EST #2

Puerile has two Es! Thanks for reading.
Ed Williams · December 6, 2003 - 02:36 EST #3
Ms. Ritterskamp, ma'am (as we southerners say),

Being a man of many parts, I take radical exception to my previous contention that there is anything puerile, i.e., "boyish," about you, and I will continue to read and appreciate your efforts on behalf of ATPM.


Ed W.
Ellyn Ritterskamp · December 6, 2003 - 03:49 EST #4
Mr. Williams, suh:

I are also a Suthrener. I read puerile as "juvenile" rather than "boyish" because it included those of us without Y chromosomes, but I will even agree with that assessment. Some of the columns are a little goofy. They are not news articles and are listed as opinion, so there's no harm.

My columns are not intended to be rigid exercises in logic - I got a C in logic 18 years ago and was thrilled with that! It took me half the semester to realize we were really doing algebra.

I will say I try to use logic even though I don't necessarily know how to explain or diagram it, but some columns are just fluff, you know? That's why I chose the name The Candy Apple, so it could be lighter than much of the rest of the magazine and still maybe have a place.


John Cowan · February 1, 2004 - 20:57 EST #5
You asked about other kinds of name rules. In general, in all common-law countries you can change your name to anything you want, as long as no fraud is intended. This includes the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and most if not all of the other former British colonies.

However, this is definitely not the case in other countries with different legal traditions. In France, for example, one's first name must be either (a) a saint's name, (b) a name from Classical mythology, or (c) a name traditionally used in one's family (at least 3 times in the last 5 generations, IIRC). Random names are not allowed.

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