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Name Droppers : If You Don't Like Yours, Change It--This Is Prime Season

June 17, 1989|MARK LANDSBAUM | Times Staff Writer

The young woman rose, lifted her hand and swore to tell the truth, so help her God.

"Natasha's always been my favorite name," she told Superior Court Commissioner Julee Robinson.

OK, but why does she want to change her last name to Lavery, Robinson wanted to know?.

"Duke and Anna Lavery on 'General Hospital,' " is all the woman said, as if it needed no further explanation.

The woman smiled. Robinson grinned. Courtroom spectators, including many who also soon would be known by different names, chuckled.

"So ordered," the commissioner said, simultaneously killing off another unsatisfactory name (Patricia Leanne Watanabe) and giving birth to a new one (Natasha Lavery).

For reasons not altogether clear, we have entered what appears to be Orange County's prime name-changing season.

Every year in Department 3 of Orange County Superior Court, about 500 unhappily or unsuitably named people ask to be officially renamed.

During spring and summer, name changes reach their peak. It's anyone's guess why. Officials say that people may have more time to show up for court proceedings.

Whatever the reasons, motives can be rather straightforward.

For example, Michael Scott Vail petitioned the court this year to add the name Merritt between his middle and last names "to qualify as an heir" under the will of his grandfather, Hewlitt C. Merritt.

Sometimes the reasons are heart-rending.

A Santa Ana woman asked to change the last name of her children, ages 8 and 11, to that of their stepfather. Her reason: "They never see their real father, who is serving a 100-year prison sentence."

If you don't like your name, you should change it, advises Leonard Ashley, English professor at Brooklyn College and past president of the 1,000-member American Name Society, a group of linguists, literary historians, and others fascinated with the etymology, origin and meaning of names.

"Your name is part of your identity," Ashley said. "You know how annoyed you get when somebody forgets it or misspells it. We even tip head waiters to remember it.

"As a person grows up, he might not like the script that has been selected for him. He may not want to be a Desmond. There are these reputations that . . . go with the names.

"If you're running for the vice presidency, you don't want to be a Bambi."

Tiffany Kristine Kern can relate to that. On Tuesday, she will become Djuna Renee Woods.

"I've always hated Tiffany since I was little," she said. "It's sweet, frilly. It's charming, nice, pleasing. I'm trying to get away from that.

"I'm not a Tiffany at all . . . it just seems like daddy's little girl. It's also a trendy name right now. . . . I don't know any other Djuna."

Kern appropriated her new names from her favorite female authors, Djuna Barnes and Renee Vivien. "I'm an English major," explained the UC Irvine senior. Her new last name--Woods--simply sounded good.

"Both my parents will be sad," she conceded. "They spent a lot of time picking out my name.

"I liked the idea of being able to name myself. It's really empowering. I'm in the process of self-discovery. I'm 24. . . . My father, I haven't told him yet . . . I thought I'd send him the (legal ad) clipping" publicizing the court hearing.

"I'm trying to be a strong feminist and intelligent, self-sufficient," she said. "Now I just have to get used to calling myself Djuna."

In some cases, fathers thought they were bestowing the ultimate honor.

"But obviously, it's tough to be a 'Junior,' " Ashley said. "First of all, you don't have a full individuality. And you have a father to live down or up to. Both of these are difficult."

Moreover, while "about 4% of the United States population is a 'Junior,' 10% of the population of insane asylums and jails are 'Juniors,' " Ashley said, quoting from studies conducted in the 1970s.

"If you're a John F. Kennedy Jr., you can have a great advantage. But at the same time, people are going to say to you: 'You're no Jack Kennedy.' "

The sure-fire solution to being badly named, according to Ashley, is simply to change it.

"You can call yourself anything you want as long as it is not an attempt at fraud," he said. "So you can't call yourself Donald Trump and go into the real estate business."

Although it is commonplace and quite legal to change a name simply by using a new one, many still seek the official imprimatur of court.

Not everyone gets his wish.

Last year, Garden Grove City Councilman Robert F. Dinsen wanted to change his name to Robert Frank Taxfighter Bob Dinsen but was turned down after a voter protested. A Superior Court judge agreed that Dinsen's name change was an attempt to undermine a city ordinance saying, in effect, that "taxfighter" is not a permissible ballot designation under the state Elections Code.

In Orange County, it requires very little to change your name.

Once you fill out the forms, you file them in Superior Court where the woman in charge of name changes is Charlotte Hooker, who, by the way, has no desire to change her name.

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