By Gary Redenbacher, Esq

Although this is a legal column, the question I get asked most often is decidedly non-legal. People want to know whether the Redenbacher moniker has any relation to the popcorn guy. To put that and frequently related questions to rest I give you the following: Yes, Orville was my grandfather. Yes, he really invented the popcorn. Yes, that was me in the commercials with him back in the nineties. No, Grandpa is no longer with us, having passed away in 1995. And, finally, yes, that is his given name (Orville Clarence Redenbacher). But Redenbacher isnít my given name. I got a legal name change.


Orville was my maternal grandfather so my last name differed from his. People tend to forget that women usually change their names when they marry so it confused people when I was introduced as the grandkid, but with a different last name. Eventually, the marketing gurus begged me to change my name. I am still known to my friends by my original last name, but legally I am Gary Redenbacher. (Believe me, having two last names is a pain.)


Many, many people in California change their names. Quite a few are not satisfied with the names given to them at birth. It is not easy going through life as Dweeby Smith. Indeed, a fair number of countries forbid giving a child a name that would bring them ridicule. Unfortunately, children cannot change their names without the consent of, usually, both parents.


Once youíre an adult, you can take a new name by simply using your name of choice. If you want to call yourself Plug Ugly, you can just start referring to yourself by that name. There are drawbacks to changing your name just through usage, though. Many institutions take a long time to recognize a new name or will simply refuse to recognize it without a court decree. This is especially true in post 9/11 America. The one exception is if youíve just been married. Most institutions will accept your new name if you show them your marriage certificate.


For all other situations, I recommend getting a court order. The legal petition is simple. You publish your new name for four weeks and, at least in Santa Cruz County, you appear in front of a judge who hands you your order with your bright, shiny new name.  At the very least, make sure to take your new name down to the DMV and the Social Security office.


As I always warn in this column, there are restrictions and exceptions. You usually canít take a famous or trademarked name, such as Orville Redenbacher. Nor can you take a name that would be highly insulting, such as a racial slur. Nor can you take a name to avoid debts or defraud others.


So, if youíve always dreamed of being called Flash, start spreading the news.

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