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Application of Ferner

August 5, 1996


Ashrafi, J.s.c.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ashrafi


In this unusual application for a legal name change, the court must decide whether to sanction the official use of a single name. The applicant is an unmarried adult woman without any dependents.

Very little legal authority exists in this country on the precise issue presented here: whether the law permits official adoption of a single name. Although courts in New York have twice answered no to that question, the courts of New Jersey have not addressed the issue in a published opinion. Nor is there any specific statutory reference to official use of a single name. Because this court finds no law in this state prohibiting the requested name change, because applicant has shown lawful reasons for her request and no one has interposed a substantial objection, and, finally because applicant's right to change her name as desired is not outweighed by a contrary public interest, the application will be granted.

Procedural History

In April 1996, Rosa Linda Ferner filed a verified complaint seeking to assume only a single name, Koriander, as her full name. The application complies with the statutory requirements for a legal name change contained in N.J.S.A. 2A:52-1 to -4, and with the similar pleading requirements of the applicable court rule, R. 4:72-1. The pleadings contain applicant's date of birth and social security number and assert that she has never been convicted of a crime and currently has no criminal matters pending against her. She swears further that the name change is not desired for the purpose of avoiding prosecution or debts or for any other fraudulent purpose.

Following routine procedures required by R. 4:72-3, the court originally set a return date of May 10, 1996, for the final hearing on the application and required the applicant to publish notice of the proposed name change and hearing date in a local newspaper. The applicant provided proof to the court that she caused the required notice to be published in the Courier-News, a daily newspaper in Somerset County, on April 25, 1996. No one filed any objection to the application before the May 10 hearing date.

Despite the lack of objection, the court did not grant the application at that time. Although neither the applicable statute nor rule require the applicant to notify the Attorney General unless criminal charges are pending, the court ordered the applicant to serve her application upon the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety because of the unusual nature of the request. That state agency, under the Attorney General's direction, is responsible for providing legal representation to other state agencies. By an order dated May 21, 1996, the court also requested assistance from the applicant and the State regarding legal authority for or against the proposed name change. The court scheduled an evidentiary hearing for June 21, 1996, at which the applicant and any opposing parties could provide sworn testimony.

The State filed responding papers shortly before the hearing date but did not take a position against the change to a single name. No witnesses testified at the hearing against the application. Instead, the State provided the affidavits of two state employees to address possible confusion and record keeping difficulties for state agencies if the court approved the applicant's proposed name change. The applicant did not object to the submission of the State's affidavits, and the court has taken them into consideration. See R. 4:72-4. The court also took sworn testimony from the applicant at the hearing to determine her motives and her understanding of potential problems arising out of use of a single name.

Findings of Fact

Applicant was born Rosa Linda Carrasquillo and adopted her husband's surname, Ferner, when she married in 1987. She continued to use her married name after her divorce in December 1992. She has not used any other names, other than the name she wishes officially to adopt, Koriander. Her friends call her Kori.

She has no dependents and few family members using the name Carrasquillo. She does not wish to use her maiden name because it is difficult to spell and has caused confusion and problems for her in the past. Applicant testified that she has been using the name Koriander for a few months both socially and in her business as an artisan. Applicant creates "New Age" jewelry. She has applied for membership with the American Craft Association under the name Koriander. Earlier, since 1994, she copyrighted music under the pseudonym Kori. She expanded that nickname to Koriander because she likes its sound and because she believes it to be appropriate for her crafting and artwork business. The applicant hopes now to simplify her affairs by legally assuming the name Koriander rather than having a business name that is different from her legal name.

The State ran a check of criminal and motor vehicle records and determined that there are no pending criminal matters against applicant and no history of criminal offenses. She has a clean driving record.

At the hearing, the State submitted the affidavits of Charles Kurkut, Chief, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Department of Health, and H. Arthur Smith, III, an employee of the Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Mr. Kurkut certified that the indexing system used by the Bureau of Vital Statistics requires both a surname and a given name. He also supplied sample forms that are used to record births, deaths, and marriages, and these forms also refer to first and last name, or, in the case of a marriage license and certificate, to a "full name." Mr. Smith, the DMV representative, similarly certified that the computer system used by the Division of Motor Vehicles operates on an algorithm system and requires a given and surname for drivers' license applications, because all fields in the system must be completed for an application to be processed. Notwithstanding these certifications, the Deputy Attorney General representing the State told the court at the evidentiary hearing that if the proposed name change is granted, the DMV would be able to accommodate the applicant by using, for example, "Ms." as a first name so that both necessary fields for its computer forms could be filled. Applicant was agreeable to such a procedure to satisfy the requirements of the DMV computers.

As in its written response, the State took no position at the evidentiary hearing other than to point out the possible confusion in record keeping for State agencies. Despite the potential for confusion, the State ultimately informed the court that the State agencies were capable of handling a single name to identify an individual. The State simply requested that any order that the court might enter reflect that Koriander is to be considered a surname for record keeping purposes.

The court took a further opportunity at the evidentiary hearing to question the applicant about her consideration and acceptance of the possible difficulties that she may encounter with only a single name. The applicant indicated a willingness to accept any bureaucratic obstacles. She also volunteered that she would consider adopting a second name if she should remarry. Finally, she is even willing to accept a separation of ...

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