An Allegheny County judge denied a Green Tree man's petition to change his name to Boomer the Dog, saying it would cause confusion and have unintended consequences, possibly "putting the public welfare at risk."
Gary Guy Mathews -- a 44-year-old fan of the "furry" lifestyle, which celebrates giving human characteristics to animals -- made the case to change his name in a hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald W. Folino on Tuesday. The judge issued a page-and-half denial late Wednesday afternoon.
He ruled the name change could result in "confusion in the marketplace," including in business records and public documents, as well as have more serious consequences.
"Consider the following example," should the court grant the request, Judge Folino wrote. "Sometime thereafter, Petitioner witnesses a serious automobile accident and telephones for an emergency medical response. The dispatcher on the phone queries as to the caller's identity, and the caller responds, 'This is Boomer the Dog.' It is not a stretch to imagine the telephone dispatcher concluding that the call is a prank and refusing to send an emergency medical response."
Mr. Mathews expected the rejection.
"Doggone it, well I wasn't too confident about it going through at this stage, just from the vibe that I was getting in the courtroom," Mr. Mathews responded in an e-mail.
"Right now I'm not sure what I'm going to do next, I'll just have to look into it. All I know is that I've been trying to realize my identity for a long time, like many people have I guess."
Name changes are fairly common and often approved by courts, as long as petitioners prove they are not trying to hide criminal pasts or avoid financial obligations. Mr. Mathews, an unemployed computer technician, had his fingerprints cleared by state police and was poised to advertise the name change to prove he had no outstanding creditors.
Pennsylvania law gives judges latitude to use "good sense" to deny changes, Judge Folino noted, "if the name is bizarre or unduly lengthy or difficult to pronounce or possessive of a ridiculous offensive connotation."
Furries have become fairly commonplace around Pittsburgh, which for five years has hosted the movement's largest annual convention. But naming oneself after a fictional dog -- in this case the canine star of a 1980s television show, which Mr. Mathews impersonates in a shaggy dog costume -- is extremely rare.
Judge Folino ended his ruling this way: "Although Petitioner apparently wishes it were otherwise, the simple fact remains that Petitioner is not a dog."
Tim McNulty: email@example.com or 412-263-1581.