News wants you to recognize what's in a name

When the animal-rights activist formerly known as Karin Robertson arrives at the airline check-in counter, the conversation goes something like this:

"What is your name?"



"Is that your first name or your last name?"


"It's just"

"Let's take a look at your I.D."

In March, Robertson, 23, of Norfolk, Va., legally changed her name to that of a vegetarian Web site, a move that she hopes will draw attention to the plight of farm animals that she says are raised in cramped quarters and subjected to painful procedures.

"There's a little bit of laughing every time somebody says my name, and that's great, you know?" said recently over a vegetarian lunch.

"I love it. When people call for me across a busy room, or when I sign a check, or when I go pay my electricity or rent, everybody has that [anti-meat] message taken down."

It's unclear how rare such name changes are, but nothing similar has come to the attention of People for the Ethical Treat-ment of Animals (PETA), owner of the site and employer of the person.

Among those who have greeted the name change with skepticism is's mother. "But your name's so pretty," she protested. And: "What are you going to do when you're married?"

Others have stronger objections. A spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council, for instance, called the name change a desperate publicity ploy.


But, who said she has changed her name with the city of Norfolk, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, her bank, her landlord, the electric company and her credit card company, remains firm in her conviction that she is doing the right thing.

"The average farm is a factory farm with over a million individuals under one roof: chickens and pigs who live their whole lives inside in cages so small they can't turn around. Chickens live about eight to 10 in a cage the size of a file drawer. That's where they spend their existence, and I know that people who learn about these things are not willing to accept [them]," she said. "And that's why I changed my name."

Her name change caps nearly a decade of ardent vegetarianism that began with a school project when she was 14. While researching cosmetic testing on animals, she came upon a book with a section on "factory farms," large, economically efficient animal-raising operations.

Growing up in rural Indiana, the fourth child of a teacher and a biologist, had never known another vegetarian. But, immediately after reading about factory farms, she stopped eating meat and eggs. At Bucknell University, where she was an animal behavior major, she stopped eating dairy products as well. said she had considered changing her name long before her she landed a job at PETA, where is she is the organization's youth projects specialist. "I always wanted to leave people with something other than, is your name Karin or Karen or Caryn? Nobody could ever pronounce my name right," she said.

Some of her friends try to call her "Dot" (for ""), a name she rejects because it doesn't refer people back to the vegetarian Web site. Her mother uses the new name only rarely. And some of the people she meets are frankly disbelieving.


Still, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, GoVeg. com said. So positive that she would encourage others to change their names -- to

"I think it would be cool," she said, "if there was a big troupe of us. So everywhere people would go, there would be"

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.