When Roger Adkins of Cheverly drives down the road people honk at him, pull up next to him and laugh -- and he loves it.
The more inquisitive drivers try to attract his attention to ask, "Who is Jo?"
"I guess that's the whole point of buying these tags," said Adkins, whose license plate reads ILUVJO. "Why do you think they are called vanity license plates, anyway?"
Adkins is just one of 28,000 Maryland motorists who flaunt their egos and imaginations on vanity license plates. For $25 in addition to the usual registration fee, a vehicle owner can get a plate bearing any combination of from two to six letters and numbers -- within tasteful limits.
Witticisms abound in the MVA's mammoth computer list of vanity plates. Everything from A-1 to ZZZZ, with IOK UOK, OUQTU (oh you cutie you), SCHLEP, 10SNE1 (tennis anyone?) and thousands of other gems.
There are a few restrictions. Obscenities and religious references are not allowed. You will not see any JESUS, LORD, GOD or CHRIST tags on Maryland vehicles.
Nor are there any of the classic four- and five-letter lewd combinations, although some clever persons have attempted some less obvious configurations, according to the MVA's director of vehicle registration, Clarence Woody.
With the help of a computer, Woody, registration division chief William Wilburn and two office workers screen applications and decide which vanity tags to issue. They must rule out those that are already on the road and any combinations that might be considered offensive.
"When the state authorized issuing the tags in 1971, we were not given any specific directives on what could be used and what couldn't," Woody said. "We were given the authority to reject anything that we considered objectionable."
Certain combinations that may be used in some official capacity, such as VFW, FBI, CIA, also are out.
Woody said most people who buy the tags are not trying to be obscene or obnoxious in public. "Most people who apply are just having a good time," he said.
Or, perhaps, being just a bit vain?
"Sure, there is a little bit of vanity involved," said Adkins with the ILUVJO license plate. "I get a kick out of stopping for a light and watching the people in my rear view mirror look at the plate and laugh."
Adkins, whose wife's name is Jo, has bought the same vanity tag every year since the MVA began issuing them.
"In 1971 when I first got the plate, Jo and I were not married and my friends would kid me that if I switched girl friends I would have to switch plates," Adkins said. "But it didn't work out that way."
Applications have space for three choices, in case one of the combinations is already in use.
Paulette Edith Perlman of Potomac got her ESP tag because her first choice had already been issued.
"I wanted to get PEP, my initials, but that was in use, so when the MVA asked me what my other choices were, I remembered that my husband always kidded me about having ESP, so I chose that," she said.
Perlman said the tags are "a delight" because everyone in her neighborhood recognizes her car.
Robert Millman, a Gaithersburg physician whose plate reads SCHLEP, says he chose that combination because, "well, I tend to schlep (drag myself) around."Millman said he likes doing little things like that for fun, and besides, he added, "the tag turns heads."
Thomas K. Zevly, part owner of Campbell Sand and Gravel Co. of College Park, has a ZZZZ plate because, "I originally had it on a Datsun Z model, my name begins with Z, my son's name begins with Z, and I added one for good measure."
Some messages are not as obvious as they appear.
Yolanda Rodgers of Landover has SMOOCH on her tag, but it has nothing to do with kissing.
"I have been called Smooch ever since I was young, and when I decided I wanted a vanity tag a few years ago, it was the obvious choice," she explained. She added that her mother has HELEN on her plate.
Names and nicknames are the most common messages. There have been many applications for SAM, BILL and JEFF. Motorists and the MVA resolve the repetition problem by adding numbers before or after the message, such as 1JEFF or JEFF1.
There are many different forms of ELVIS, countless initial combinations and abundant references to cars, such as 280Z or 56CHEVY. References to occupations and hobbies are also common.
Some plates are inspired by the times. There are CLONE, R2D2 (of Star Wars fame), IN DEBT, and OVR TXD (over taxed).
Although most persons involved agree that the main purpose of the vanity tags is fun, there is a serious side to them.
A large chunk of the proceeds from the tags -- more than $700,000 this year -- will be used for scholarships.
According to H. Kenneth Shook, executive director of the State Scholarship Board, $150,000 is used each year to support a professional scholarship program for dental, pharmacy, law and nursing students. Shook said approximately 200 students will benefit from the fund this year.
In addition, $200,000 is appropriated to a distinguished scholarship program, which is the only state scholarship fund that is not based on financial need, but on scholastic merit only.
So if you have a vanity tag, BHAPPY that your MONEY is being well used, and BCOOL, GOSLOW and ENJOY.
ADIOS. CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 3, Maryland motorists paid $25 each for these "vanity plages." ESP adorns the auto of Paulette Perlman; ZZZZ belongs to Michael Zevly. Yolanda Rodgers and her mother, Helen Batten, with Rodgers' plate which spells her nickname. Batten owns tag that reads Helen. Photos By MICHIAL F. PARKS -- THE WASHINGTON POST; Picture 4 Roger and JoAnn Adkins, with 18-month-old son Mathew, show series of plates they have owned; Picture 5, Dr. Robert Millman with his SCHLEP license plate; Picture 6, Michael Zevly's tag displays his favorite initial. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL F. PARKS -- THE WASHINGTON POST