Some say they do it for religious reasons. Others say they want to get closer to their roots. Some say it has to do with getting away from the traditional view of a woman's place in the world.
Whatever the reasons, more and more Washington area are going to courthouses to get their names changed. Many find it easy. Others decide the process is too tedious and decide to stick with their old names. Some change their names and find part of the process a little ridiculous.
Christina Sampson Gardner, a security analyst for a Washington bank, is now Christina Sampson again. One of the things she had to do to make it official was mail a notice to her husband, with whom she lives.
When Jane Kriesman decided to add another "s" to her last name after "looking up (her) roots" in the National Archives, she said she had no idea one letter could cause so much trouble.
"This is one of those red-tape hassles that you shouldn't have to go through," she said. "Anybody should be able to call themselves what they want."
Kreisman decided to drop the idea, although she said she might start calling herself Kreissman unofficially.
About 500 persons have applied to D.C. Superior Court to have their names changed in the past year. Although precise figures are no available, court officials say the number has been going up in recent years.
In Virginia, there were 613 court-approved name changes in all of 1974. Through July of this year, there already had been 549 approved changes.
Although several applicants said they didn't want to appear as if they were simply responding to a fad, there clearly is a "Roots" factor at work, particularly since the great success of the novel by that name by Alex Haley. It is a factor that is not confined to blacks.
Even though she decided not to go through the "hassle," Jane Kreisman, who is 17, was concerned about her roots.
"We're Jewish and my grandfather was from Poland," she said. "He had two 's's' in his name, but that got changed at Ellis Island or in the Army or somewhere. Maybe he tried to Americanize it or de-Germanize it, but I think it would be right to have it the way my ancestors had it."
In the same vein, several Washington blacks have taken African Names. Dallo Sekou, 28, who used to be Godfrey B. Chambers, wrote on his application that his deep-seated "feelings for my African heritage . . . led me to acquire a name with ethic overtones."
Like Christina Sampson, the security analyst, many women are going back to using their maiden names. Sampson said on her application that she wanted the change because of "personal preference."
Catherine Sue Elwell changed her name to Catherine Bentley Elwell, incorporating her mother's maiden name because of her "desire . . . to have both sides of (the) family represented equally" in her name.
Michael J. G. Linde, an insurance broker, used to be Michael Graboff. He said he took his mother's maiden name because she was the last family member in this country to be called Linde.
Linde said the process was costly and time-consuming, especially the $179.55 he had to pay to have the required legal notice published in a newspaper. He said it was worth it, however, and that no one in his family objected.
One Northwest Washington resident changed names after undergoing a sex change operation in Colorado.
About one-fifth of the 40 applications, involving 50 persons, filed in D.C. Superior Court in June were for more usual reasons. They included changing the names of children because of divorces, marriages, and other changes in family conditions.
Many Washingtonian changed religions and adopted names that reflect this. In June, eight applicants took on the surname Khalsa, the name used by the more than 120 3HO Sikhs who live near Dupont Circle and think of themselves as an extended family.
Four others applied to adopt Muslim names, which seems to be much more common among Washington's blacks than taking African names.
Theodore Qaadir Madyun, 38, of Columbia Road NW, recently changed his name, his wife's and those of four children. The Madyuns belong to the World Community of Islam, formerly known as the Nation of Islam.
Some of the steps required for a name change in the District deter a few applicants.
For starters, each applicant must plunk down a $20 filing fee and place a legal ad in one of four newspapers once a week for three consecutive weeks. Some spend as much as Linde's $130, not knowing that the cheapest way is to advertise in the Washington Daily Law Reporter, which has a flat rate of $39.95.
Having complete the whole process, Patrick D. Bellegarde-Smith, 30, an unemployed Ph.D. in international studies, said, "It was amazingly simple. About five years ago I picked up all the forms . . . I should have done it years ago."
Bellegarde-Smith, whose name used to be Patrick D. Smith, said he has used the other name since he was a boy. His maternal grandfather had been a prominent Haitian diplomat and he wanted to carry his name.
Changing names is much cheaper for Virginia residents. There is a uniform $10 filing fee and no publications requirement, court officials said.
Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties have a flat $40 fee. Prince George's also has a one-year residency requirement. In both countries, applicants may post a notice either on a county bulletin board or the court house door. In some cases, however, a judge may require them to place legal notices in newspapers, and this can add to the cost.
Court employees have their favorite anecdotes about name changes. In 1971, one D.C. man reportedly came back once a month for 12 months because he was writing a book and wanted the different chapters to have "different" authors.
"The last time around, the judge asked him if this was the name the guy wanted, because he wasn't going to let him change it anymore," one court veteran said. "So the guy said 'yes' and walked out with his original name."