ACCORDING TO the law, you may change your name at will, provided you do not do so with the intention of escaping justice. According to Miss Manners, you may change your name at certain specified times, provided that you are merciful in judging those who have allowed the changes to escape them.

The wise parent will bestow an adolescent nickname upon an infant and a grown-up name upon a child. The tenderest of baby faces will soon enough sprout hair, and the gangliest of teen-agers will some day sprout some unlikely desire for dignity. It is well to stay ahead in the nomenclature.

But ultimately, each person is responsible for fashioning his or her own name. The first opportunity comes with entry into the educational system. Anyone allowing himself to be announced at roll call in nursery school by the nickname his parents fashioned from his own inability to pronounce his own name in infancy will be marked for life.

Daisy Louise Perfect made the mistake, at the age of 14 months, of referring to herself as "Doopsie" instead of employing the personal pronoun. Although her blood relatives will continue to call her this until the day she dies, partly from fondness, partly from bad memory and partly for the annoyance value, she had the sense to announce herself as Daisy when she first went to school.

Two years later, another Daisy showed up in her school, as a transfer student, and Daisy was told she had to be called Daisy P., to distinguish her from Daisy R. Our Daisy did not like this one bit, but it revealed to her a world of possibilities. At summer camp, she went for her middle name, and told everyone she was called Louise. That fall, she endeavored to get her old classmates to call her Lou, but, this not being a natural breaking point as was camp, it didn't work. So she waited until she moved from lower school to middle school, and successfully grafted her new choice, becoming Daisie-Lou.

Tiring of this as soon as it had taken, she tried to continue the evolution, but was unable to budge her teachers or classmates. Fortunately, the school tired of her at this time, and at boarding school, she was able to effect a complete break and persuade everyone that she should be called Samantha.

After a year at Miss Waffles' School, she was sent home to complete her education at Midtown Country Day School, where her uncle was a benefactor, and there she began to style herself D. Louise. At the next changing point, entry into college, she became known as D.L., until her engagement, when she resumed the full dignity of Daisy Louise. In tender moments, her fiance' called her his Doopsie. When they were divorced, she became Daisy again, to her new friends.

You see here the possible, as well as the impossible, times that changes may be made in one's given names, through marriage, divorce, hyphenation and the desire to depart from, or return to, one's point of ethnic origin.

The general rule is that a change of location or legal status is always good for a fresh start, but that one cannot expect the same people to acknowledge more than one change each in given name and surname, and that many people will not be able to master even that. Grateful that her mother has made the transition from her infant nickname to her baptismal names, and that her bridesmaids were able to memorize her married surname, Daisy accepts as a natural accompaniment to life's development that her chum from sixth grade still writes her as Daisie-Lou. It is only because of her own poor memory that she addresses this woman, now a federal judge, as Poo-Poo instead of Prudence.

MISS MANNERS RESPONDS

Q. How does a bride-to-be handle wedding plans to include messily divorced parents?

The bride has asked the father to pay for the handsome wedding and to give her away. The mother refuses to attend the wedding if the father and his second wife are present. The wedding will take place in the mother's hometown, where the maternal grandfather awaits the request to walk the bride down the aisle.

Under somewhat ambivalent leanings, the bride would like to have her wedding cake and peacefully eat it, too. Your respected illumination is anxiously anticipated.

A. Oh, dear. Miss Manners would like to make it an absolute condition of two people, when they conceive a child together, to promise to treat each other with civility for at least one day, some two or three decades hence, that being the child's wedding day.

Indeed, you have the right to expect to have your own two parents in their respective proper roles at your wedding, without their making their own quarrels the chief drama of the event. Your stepmother also properly belongs at the wedding.

The first step is for the bride to appeal to their sense of duty; this, Miss Manners takes it, has already failed. May she suggest a stronger and less pleasant second step of suggesting that they are spoiling your wedding by dragging into it their own spoiled marriage. "Can't you do this just once, just for me, on my wedding day?" or "Well, if you're going to be that way, I won't have any wedding -- we'll just go away by ourselves" are two versions of this.

If that, too, fails, and you still want to preserve the fiction of a true family wedding, you might appeal to your stepmother to absent herself on the occasion. If she agrees gracefully, you will owe her one.

Q. Please help settle an argument between my mother and me. Is it necessary to respond to a bread-and-butter gift?

The sequence of events which generate the disagreement: An old high school chum and her daughter visited here on a college tour and my husband and I invited her to dinner. After dinner, we picked up her daughter at the school she was visiting and took them both out for ice cream. The next morning, they invited me to their hotel for breakfast. Shortly thereafter, I received a box of chocolates and a thank-you note. I considered the social exchange properly and satisfactorily (it was delicious candy) closed. Months later, the friend called to ask a favor of my husband and also indicated she was miffed because I had not acknowledged receipt of the candy. My mother says I should have. Is she correct?

A. Mother is always correct. Presents must always be acknowledged, even if you fear that the chain of obligations will never end. It won't, either. If the girl chose the school near you, you should now invite her to visit you. With luck, she will forget to thank you, and you'll be even with the mother.

Q.How does one distinguish between your definition of flirting and the more sinister notion of teasing? Is it not true that flirting, as you define it, is nothing more than a glossy euphemism for what has been conducted by the vulgar since sex was invented? Are you not vindicating those diabolical sadists who prey upon the lower echelon of the romantic world, most notably the availables?

You open the floodgates, allowing the romantically secure to dangle and manipulate the less fortunate who seek only romantic meaning in their lives. I implore you, Miss Manners, retract your definition; it kills the lifeblood of one of life's "prettiest occupations," as you call it.

The real enemy is not the individual who flirts while clinging to a faint hope that something meaningful may come of it, but rather those who, under the auspices of flirtation, engage in that devilish activity of teasing.

By asserting that flirting is -- and can only be -- "an end, not a means," you are removing the delicious, savory spectrum of possibilities that provides this most noble of human endeavors with its illuminating and sublime veneer. In doing so, you deny us our most primordial, archetypal urging. It is the very possibility of deeper romance -- even when the odds appear hopeless -- that makes flirtation the pleasurable experience it is.

Yes, Miss Manners, I confess that I flirt, hoping that a more meaningful relationship will ensue. But I refuse to accept your condemnation that this makes me "a grim person, anxious to get down to business," or that I "treat prospects as though they were fast-food meals, to be grabbed and devoured because I'm starving." (I do behave like a literal-minded clod, but only on occasion.)

As the Greek oracle Themis reminds us, "Love without passion cannot grow." I submit to you (although not as oracly) that flirting without the slimmest prospect of further romance cannot grow, but can only die and wither.

A. Social flirting is not intended to grow. There is nothing more insulting than, having made an otherwise dull social evening agreeable by an exchange of little smiles, glances and pleasantries with an attractive person, having that person telephone the next day to demand that one lie to one's spouse and agree to consume a meal at a motel on the outskirts of town.

The suggestion that this is the inevitable next step of socializing with the opposite sex is, like your ugly use of the word teasing, to rule that respectable people must be rigidly circumspect in their behavior in a severely asexual way unless they are willing to commit themselves to an entire romance.

Miss Manners dearly wishes you success in your endeavor to secure a meaningful relationship for yourself. If it is truly meaningful, you will not soon -- or perhaps ever -- need form another. Do you then pledge to spend the rest of your life barred from "this most noble of human endeavors, with its illuminating and sublime veneer . . . our most primordial, archetypal urging?"