“A good name is better than precious ointment.”
— Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12, verse 1
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
— William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” Act II, Scene II
Several years ago I wrote a column in this space about an Ohio man who had attempted to legally change his name to Santa Claus. Appellate courts in Ohio have ruled that so long as there is not a fraudulent purpose and so long as the name change does not infringe on the rights of other persons, then the court should permit a person to change their name. In the Santa Claus case, the trial court found that such a name change would violate public policy because Santa Claus is a cultural icon and the name change would mislead children in the community. It denied the name change petition, and the court of appeals upheld that decision.
This Christmas season it occurred to me that I had never thought to look and see if other states had addressed the same issue, and if so, how they decided it. And I can now confirm that there isn’t just one American who carries who a driver’s license and Social Security card displaying the name “Santa Claus,” but in fact there are several.
According to Time Magazine, the Santa Claus of Valley Stream, New York, answers his phone by saying, “Good Afternoon, Santa speaking,” which makes sense since the state of New York legally recognizes his name to be Santa Claus. This particular Santa, who won’t reveal his birth name, changed his legal name in 2012. He was working as an installer of fire sprinkler systems in 2006 when a Macy’s employee asked him if he would be interested in playing the jolly old elf. After a few years at Macy’s, he went freelance, and has even appeared on The Today Show.
Out in Omaha, Nebraska, there’s not only a legally recognized Santa Claus, but he has a wife whose legal name is Merry Christmas Claus. (Their dog’s is named Bear Claus.) The couple met online in 2009, right around the time that Santa, who asks interviewers not to reveal his birth name, began to play the role. They legally changed their names last year. After several years of travelling around the country at Christmas time, this Santa now works events exclusively in the Omaha area, usually with Mrs. Claus by his side.
But would you believe that Santa Claus is also an elected official? Alaska’s edition of St. Nicholas lives in the small, but magnificently appropriate town of North Pole, population 2,232. Back in 2014 he discovered that the upcoming election for city council had no declared candidates. So he submitted his name as a write-in. He’s now the longest serving member of the North Pole City Council (no word on whether they have a toy making committee or a reindeer training task force). If you go to their website at www.northpolealaska.com/citycouncil you’ll see his smiling, bearded picture right at the top of the page. Santa’s term in office ends next October, and there’s no word on whether he might be seeking reelection or whether his political platform includes a city-wide naughty and nice list.
Of course, we know that none of these gentlemen are the real Santa (though the North Pole guy is pretty convincing), but they could all belong to the International Society of Real Beard Santas which, amazingly, is also a real, not made-up thing. (www.ibrbsantas.org) Regardless of your name, may you and yours have a very merry Christmas, and a most happy New Year.
David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.