What’s in a Name?

By Trent Hale*

At times, politicians have been known to employ clever (sometimes tricky) tactics to win an election, but what about a name change? That is precisely what Republican Scott Fistler did in order to win his campaign for congress in the state of Arizona.

Fislter, after being defeated in his first bid for congress, filed to change his name to César Chávez (the same name as the late César E. Chávez, famous co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union). Chávez, (formally known as Fislter) who ran for a representative position in a primarily Latino/a district, plans on running in the same district under his new name and as a Democrat. Generally speaking, courts will often deny name-change petitions if a person is seeking to change their name in association to a famous figure unless they have a valid reason for the change. Chávez claimed that his former name had caused him hardship, and the court accepted his petition. Alejandro Chávez, grandson of the real César Chávez, filed a lawsuit against the candidate stating that his name change was an attempt to mislead and manipulate voters. Shortly after César Chávez was placed on the ballot, the Maricopa County Superior Court removed Chávez from the ballot, but not because of his politically advantageous name change. The Arizona secretary of state’s office discovered that almost 700 signatures on his candidacy petition were invalid.

Beyond the motives behind Scott Fistler’s name change, official name changes are commonplace occurrences. Individuals may petition for a name change after a marriage, after a divorce, or simply because someone wants a “change of pace.” Whatever the reason, each state has particular guidelines and procedures to ensure that your preferred name is also your legal name on all official documents. In brief this process, in the state of Texas, involves the signing and notarization of a Petition for Change of Name of Adult and filling out an Order Granting Change of Name of and Adult which is then signed and granted pending the approval of the local judge. After a name change is made official by the court, it is vital that you notify certain agencies of your name change so that the name change is reflected on certain documents. For example, notify your banking and financial institutions, the Department for Public Safety (for driver’s license), the Department of State Health Services (for birth certificate), and the Social Security Administration (for social security card). There are specific situations in which a state will not grant a name change. One may not change his/her name to a racial slur or to something that would be considered offensive or intimidating, change names in order to avoid debt or involvement in a crime, or change one’s name to something that contains punctuation or numerals. As noted before, one may also not change their name with the intention of misleading people or to the same name as a famous or well-known figure without good cause. In the case of congressional candidate César Chávez, the court found that his name change was perfectly permissible given the circumstances.

If you are considering a name change and would like more detailed information or assistance with the process, the office of Student Legal and Mediation Services is here to guide you through it. You can make an appointment with our attorney by calling us at 936-294-1717, emailing us at slms@shsu,edu, or visiting our website at www.shsu.edu/legalservice.

 

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