NEW YORK - A Manhattan man's holiday spirits soared to celestial heights Friday when a judge gave him permission to change his name to Jesus Christ.
Jose Luis Espinal, 42, of Washington Heights, said he was "happy" and "grateful" that the judge approved the change, effective immediately. Espinal said he was moved to seek the name change about a year ago when it dawned on him, "I am the person that is that name."
Espinal, who acted as his own lawyer, got the change approved by Manhattan Civil Court Judge Diane Lebedeff, who said she was "satisfied that this application is neither novel, nor would granting it pose practical problems."
The judge said name change applications usually are not denied just because the change might cause practical difficulties or be thought unwise, as long as a person with the same name does not object to the proposed change.
She cited a 2001 Utah case in which a man legally changed his name to "Santa Claus" and a Washington, D.C., case earlier this year in which a name change applicant obtained a driver's license and Social Security card in the name of "Jesus Christ."
The judge compared those cases with that of actor Peter Lorre's widow, who objected to a man who said he was the actor's relative changing his name to "Peter Lorie."
Though laws differ by jurisdiction, the judge said, there seems to be a nationwide consensus that a name cannot be changed to a number. She cited a South Dakota court ruling against a change to "1069" and a California court rejecting "III" as name.
The judge said she held a hearing in which Espinal, who also uses the last name Tejeda, testified. She said he was aware of the "common law right to assume another name without legal proceedings so long as the change is not made to deceive or perpetrate a fraud or to avoid an obligation" but wanted to go the formal route anyway.
The judge said Espinal's "reasons were primarily those applicable to his own private religious beliefs and he stated no desire to use his proposed name to secure publicity, to proselytize, to fund-raise or advise others that he had been cloaked by the courts or government with a religious authority."
Espinal, who is unemployed and unmarried and has no children, said, "This was not done for any reason other than I am that person. You're dealing with the real deal."