“Hello, My Name Is … Oh, Never Mind”

A pro se litigant in Arkansas appealed a trial court decision granting custody of her child to the biological father and ordering that the child’s birth name be changed. The trial court granted the custody change and ordered the child’s name be changed to “Samuel Charles.” Not a bad name, but why order a change? Personally, I liked the original name: “Weather’By Dot Com Chanel Fourcast.”

For making us laugh out loud, this order gets into the Strange Judicial Opinions Hall of Fame.

Here’s the colloquy in which the perplexed trial judge asked the mother to explain the child’s birth name:

The Court: I simply do not understand why you named this child — his legal name is Weather’By Dot Com Chanel Fourcast Sheppard. Now, before you answer that, Mr. – the plaintiff in this action is a weatherman for a local television station?

Sheppard: Yes.

The Court: Okay. Is that why you named this child the name that you gave the child?

Sheppard: It – it stems from a lot of things.

The Court: Okay. Tell me what they are.

Sheppard: Weather’by — I’ve always heard of Weatherby as a last name and never a first name, so I thought Weatherby would be — and I’m sure you could spell it b-e-e or b-e-a or b-y. Anyway, Weatherby.

The Court: Where did you get the “Dot Com”?

Sheppard: Well, when I worked at NBC, I worked on a Teleprompter computer.

The Court: All right.

Sheppard: All right, and so that’s where the Dot Com [came from]. I just thought it was kind of cute, Dot Com, and then instead of — I really didn’t have a whole lot of names because I had nothing to work with. I don’t know family names. I don’t know any names of the Speir family, and I really had nothing to work with, and I thought “Chanel”? …

The Court: Well, where did you get “Fourcast”?

Sheppard: Fourcast? Instead of F-o-r-e, like your future forecast or your weather forecast, F-o-u, as in my fourth son, my fourth child, Fourcast. It was —

The Court: So his name is Fourcast, F-o-u-r-c-a-s-t?

Sheppard: Yes.

The Court: All right. Now, do you have some objection to him being renamed Samuel Charles?

Sheppard: Yes.

The Court: Why? You think it’s better for his name to be Weather’by Dot Com Chanel —

Sheppard: Well, the —

The Court: Just a minute for the record.

Sheppard: Sorry.

The Court: Chanel Fourcast, spelled F-o-u-r-c-a-s-t? And in response to that question, I want you to think about what he’s going to be — what his life is going to be like when he enters the first grade and has to fill out all [the] paperwork where you fill out — this little kid fills out his last name and his first name and his middle name, okay? So I just want – if your answer to that is yes, you think his name is better today than it would be with Samuel Charles, as his father would like to name him and why. Go ahead.

Sheppard: Yes, I think it’s better this way.

The Court: The way he is now?

Sheppard: Yes. He doesn’t have to use “Dot Com.” I mean, as a grown man, he can use whatever he wants.

The Court: As a grown man, what is his middle name? Dot Com Chanel Fourcast?

Sheppard: He can use Chanel, he can use the letter “C.”

The Court: And when he gives his Birth Certificate — is it on his birth certificate as you’ve stated to the Court? Does his Birth — does this child’s Birth Certificate read “Weather’by Dot com” —

Sheppard: That’s how I filled out the paperwork for his —

The Court: — Chanel Fourcast?

Sheppard: Yes, and for his Social Security card, I filled it out as Weather’by F. Sheppard.

The Court: All right.

The Arkansas court of appeals upheld the trial judge’s ruling based largely on its finding that the birth name could subject the child to embarrassment.

Sheppard v. Speir, 157 S.W.3d 583, 587–88 (Ark. Ct. App. 2004). Thanks to David Eanes.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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