SOUTH BEND - After a judge calls for Melvin Douglas Hillman, the 75-year-old makes his way to the bench, one hand gripping a cane, the other grasping a batch of papers.
St. Joseph Circuit Court Senior Judge David Matsey looks down at the gray-haired man, who says he now wants to be known as Habib Jamimanu Bey.
Matsey asks whether the man has been convicted of a felony in the last 10 years, checking for this piece of paper or that. But Hillman/Bey is missing a part of the order he needs, and Matsey takes the case under advisement until the man can bring in the missing paperwork in the next day or two.
Habib means “beloved” and “seeker of God” in African, the man says.
“I’ve done a lot of searching and found out who I was,” says Hillman/Bey, a Muslim who’s been called Habib for more than three decades already as he’s embraced his Muslim beliefs. “They determined my name, I guess, by my personality.”
Even though the retired Studebaker worker and restaurant cook is older, he says it’s still worth going through the formality: “It’s worth knowing that you realize who you are.”
But among the several people on the court docket last week seeking new names, Cecil Lavern Black Hemingway’s reason for enduring the hassle (and the $137 fee) is far more common: His name needs to be consistent on his documents so that he may be issued an Indiana driver’s license.
As a teenager, Hemingway simply attached his stepfather’s last name to his birth name and has been called that ever since. But he explains that since he moved back to South Bend several years ago from Michigan, Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles demands that his birth certificate match the names on other paperwork.
In Michigan, where Hemingway was allowed to renew his license, the requirements are apparently not as strict. It became a hassle to keep driving up there to fetch a new license.
So 63-year-old Cecil Lavern Black Hemingway left the courtroom last Monday as ... Cecil Lavern Black Hemingway.
“I’ll probably text everyone,” he says wryly of the milestone, “saying, ‘I’ve finally got all this pooh-pooh straight.’”
Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch says the number of name-change cases has definitely risen during the nearly 20 years he’s been affiliated with the court, first as a deputy prosecutor and then nearly seven as judge.
And the No. 1 reason for the increase, he says, has to do with tightening documentation requirements linked to 9/11 and Homeland Security.
The top motivations the judge sees in his courtroom:
nþHomeland Security-related requirements. This not only goes for driver’s licenses - although Indiana has adjusted requirements more than once since 9/11 - but also what’s needed for passports and to collect Social Security.
nþWomen wanting to change their names after a divorce. This often happens as part of a divorce decree, but sometimes a woman will forget to do that or wants to regain her maiden name after her children are grown.
nþPersonal preference. A person has always used his middle name as a first name, for example, and wants to make it official. A sub-category of that might be in paternity cases, such as where a child wants a birth parent’s name.
Everyone remembers the singer Prince, who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (which became known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”) during a fight with his record company. He later resumed using “Prince.”