The Washington Post

Gray orders license plate change: ‘District of Columbia’ instead of ‘Washington D.C.’

A member of U.S. Secret Service takes flags from President Obama's limo, which shows a new license plate at the White House on Jan. 19. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) published a new mayoral order changing the city’s license plates from “Washington D.C.” to the “District of Columbia.” The name change means the city’s “taxation without representation” license plates will be redesigned.

“Under the charter that establishes Home Rule in the District, we are the District of Columbia, and the plates should match that,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a Gray spokesman. “This is the District of Columbia, and to a lot of folks, in their minds, that is what we are: We are D.C.”

Ribeiro said the city was also identified as the “District of Columbia” on license plates during the first part of the 20th century. But Ribeiro said they were changed in the late 1960s to “Washington D.C.”

“We are realigning ourselves with what is historical precedent,” Ribeiro.

In the late 1700s, the nation’s planners identified both the federal district and the surrounding city of Washington. In 1871, federal officials then merged various municipalities with the federal zone into the District of Columbia. The name was reconfirmed under the 1973 Home Rule Act.

Still, its debatable whether District residents — not to mention other motorists on nationwide highways — more closely identify with the name Washington D.C. or the District of Columbia.

For Gray, however, the change back to District of Columbia also carries a bit of political symbolism. A fierce advocate of statehood, he frequently ends his speeches by noting his yearning for the city to become the “state of New Columbia.”

Ribeiro said the first “District of Columbia” labels will soon start appearing on “low-number” license plates that are reserved for friends and allies of the mayor and council members. The new name will be incorporated into general circulation in the coming years after the Department of Motor Vehicles completes the redesign, he said.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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