Spotlight on Los Alamos: What's in a name?

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Whether the request was frivolous, childish or crude – it was surely one designed to test the limits of the First Amendment.

The New Mexico Supreme Court recently denied a Los Alamos man, whose current legal name is “Variable,” the request to change his name to F--- Censorship.

Bernalillo County Judge Nan Nash denied his petition for a name change on the grounds that it was “obscene, offensive and would not comport with common decency.”

“While it is fashionable to oppose swear words both in and out of courts, I contend that a mere squeamish discomfort with a supposedly bad word is not sufficient grounds to override the constitutional protection of freedom of speech,” Variable said.

The state law, which clarifies the court’s authority to turn him down on grounds of common decency and good taste, was clarified in a 2004 case in which the same petitioner got the go-ahead from the appeals court to change his name to the word “Variable.”

The judges determined that he had the right to call himself whatever he wanted, unless there was fraud or misrepresentation involved.

His name prior to the case was Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon.

Variable argues that the nature of his newly desired name, F--- Censorship, is almost identical to the content of the Constitutional sentence “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” only that it’s a bit more direct and to the point.

“It we are not allowed Constitutional rights in this area of life, what other areas will we cede?” he asked. “If free speech doesn’t even include your name, what common sense and right based moral structure does apply to our lives?”

He said similar battles that deal with free speech may be lost if the government continues to be “out of touch with the basic understanding of even the most simple of Constitutional principles.”

Clarifications should be made to the “sometimes granted” Constitutional rights in this area of life, Variable said, so the American public is informed of exactly what rules exist and why they are in place.

“In some European countries, holocaust denial is illegal so that future holocausts do not occur. In the Islamic world, criticism of Muhammad is illegal because the Quran and Hadith disallow and punish that behavior strictly. In America, criticism of censorship is forbidden in the court system due to peril taboos over bad words. What other restrictions apply, and may we have Constitutional amendments making them explicit?”

But many disagree with Variable. A quick Internet search for “Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon” reveals dozens of bloggers arguing over the rationale of Variable’s latest name change attempt, and whether it is justifiable merely by invoking the First Amendment.

Most say no, it is not.

In fact, most tend to side with state judges in their ruling that the name change is simply in “bad taste,” and a juvenile attempt for attention.

Variable has found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend himself against “online hordes of strangers,” as he puts it.

“I know there are more important battles to be fought,” Variable said. “It is a tribute to American freedoms that the battle we are fighting against censorship is brought to the courts by name changes like this, instead of the government taking the battle to the citizens by confiscating artwork, plays, music and tattoo guns.”

Some recent successful, but quirky, legal name changes include a member of Ohio’s 5694th National Guard who changed his name to Optimus Prime, the commander of the popular ’80s cartoon Transformers, and Ohio rapper Daniel Michael Miller II, now legally named “The” Dan Miller Experience, quotation marks included.

Variable said he has not re-appealed for the name change, and most likely will not do so because he thinks the judge will surely deny him again.

He adds that his parents, some of his older friends, and occasionally his siblings still refer to him by his given birth name, David Hughes.

He added, “If the government is allowed to censor a statement that criticizes censorship we will lose all the other battles before we pick up our pens.”