As senior Ansley Griess drove around Zimbabwe with her Summer of Service missionary, she wondered why the license plates on the car said BIG FOOT. Uncle Nyikadzino didn’t have big feet. “Why did you choose that?” she finally mustered up the courage to ask.
“So when my car gets stolen, people will be able to recognize it more easily.”
Motives behind personalizing our license plates may vary from person to person, and within different cultural contexts. Students at Northwestern with personalized plates are no different.
Walking through one of the campus’s student parking lots you might come across SOCCR16, HELPNUC, PRNCES or JANGURS. With a space of just six or seven letters with which to express yourself, some codes are easy to decipher, others are not. Junior Justin Hellinga’s hometown friends are more likely to understand why his plates read STINO than those who don’t know he’s been nicknamed that since the fourth grade.
Sophomore Kaylee Thompson also has personalized license plates because of personal nicknames. Thompson’s plates fittingly read KAYJAY, a nickname from back home that is short for Kaylee Jayne. In fact, this nickname and the plates that help facilitate that are so prominent that Thompson says, “People don’t really ask me about it anymore because most people have started calling me by my nickname.”
BLUSWMR, as you’ll read on senior Aaron Hambleton’s plates, doesn’t imply that Hambleton has been nicknamed “Blue Swimmer,” or even that he was on the swim team in high school. After he was awarded the Vigil Honor status, the highest honor a Boy Scout can earn, Hambleton was dubbed “Schiwa’pew Petaschowen,” which translates to “Blue Swimmer” in the Lenape tribal language. Because of that, his parents purchased his BLUSWMR license plates for him. “I’ve worked at the same Boy Scout camp since the summer of 2005 and have had that name for just as long,” Hambleton said. “As a matter of fact, I respond better to Blue Swimmer or Hambone [his h* name] better than my Christian name.”
Like Hambleton, many students have received personalized plates as gifts from family members. Giving such a gift has become a tradition in junior Samantha Hoy’s family. “For our 16th birthdays, my grandparents buy each grandchild a personalized license plate,” Hoy explained. Because SAM I AM was already taken, Hoy’s plates read SAMM IM “because that was the next most creative thing my grandma could come up with.”
When Dr. John Brogan bought a used Honda for his daughter Erin, he decided to get plates that would “identify and celebrate my heritage.” Because IM IRISH was already taken, he chose IRISH4U, thinking it “might be a little jab at the Dutch heritage” which is so prevalent in the area.
However, for Hub retail manager Wanda Pauling, the plates on her car bear a nickname for the car, not for Wanda. Muffin, Crème Puff, Tillie Taurus and Victoria are just a few of the many names Pauling has given to her previous cars. When she bought a purple car a few years ago, “I was thinking of naming it either Petunia or Violet. My husband liked ‘Violet’ because it made him think of the movie ‘Coyote Ugly.’ Since then I have bought a different car, and since I didn’t want to spend more money on another new plate I decided to keep the same one,” Pauling said.
Although personalizing your plates may give you a voice of expression on the road, the Department of Transportation doesn’t give you a free-for-all. A list of restrictions can be found on the Iowa Department of Transportation website. Personalized plates in Iowa cost an extra $25 and can be applied for at your county’s treasurer’s office.