What’s in a name? A lot.

For as long as I can remember, people have asked me, “Do you prefer Mike or Michael?”

And, of course, the answer is that I prefer Leonard.

Ok, so truth of the matter is, I don’t really care. And I tell people that when they ask. Whatever you want to call me is fine, as I answer to both Mike and Michael. (My wife calls me Michael, but it has very different meanings based on how she says it.)

But as much as I consider the two interchangeable, I have found that one is, in fact, superior to the other, and that is Michael. I learned this because the DMV said it is so, and if there is one thing I have learned this past week, it’s that the DMV does not change its mind.

I learned this when my daughter went to get her driver’s license. Under state law, she can take her driver’s test from a certified instructor, and then take the paperwork to the DMV to keep the actual license. (Hey, states that aren’t South Carolina — if you’re not doing it this way, do it this way. Makes it way easier than having to take the test at the DMV.)

So she passed her test on a Sunday, but had to wait until Monday to get the actual license. We waited a short while until her number was called. We had all of the paperwork that the driving instructor had filled out, as well as a few extra pages the DMV had us fill out for fun.

We handed the paperwork to the clerk. After a few moments, she looked up and said, “Who’s Mike?”

“That’s me,” I said.

“Well then who is Michael?”

“Uh, still me. I go by both…”

“Your legal name is?”

“My legal name?”

“What name is on your driver’s license?”

“Um, Michael.”

“Then who is Mike?” she said, holding up the sheet from the driving instructor.

“Pardon?” I said.

“Mike is not your legal name. Michael is. You wrote Mike here,” she said pointing at a spot on the paperwork. “Mike is a nickname,” she said, in a quite disappointed tone.

I explained to her that I use the two interchangeably, but that I see her point about how using “Mike” vs. “Michael” could very well collapse the very infrastructure that keeps our state afloat. I asked her for the paperwork, and told her that, thanks to my exceptionally poor handwriting, I could turn that “Mike” into a “Michael” in seconds.

“No, sir,” she said. “We need a new form.”

“Fine,” I said. “Give me a form and I’ll fill it out again.

“You need to get that from your driving instructor,” she said. Keep in mind this was 4 p.m. The office closes at 5. And there is a 15-year-old who was this close to having her actual driver’s license, and it was being ripped from her until tomorrow at the earliest, which is like forever away. I looked at my daughter. She paused from angrily Snapchatting her predicament to give me the “Daddy, do something!” look.

“Look,” I said. “My daughter just got her license. She has been working so hard for this, and I don’t want her not to get it because I wrote ‘Mike’ instead of ‘Michael.’”

The clerk stared at me, and then my daughter. Work a tear, Allie. Now is the time. She told me that she wishes she had a better solution, but she really needed the form filled out correctly. She gave me this option: get the form, fill it out, and come back to the DMV, but don’t wait in line. Slip in, catch her eye, and she’d take care of it.

Fortunately, I was able to reach her instructor on the phone, and he was as awesome of a guy as he was an instructor. In about 15 minutes, he was at the DMV, new form in hand. I filled it out carefully. M-I-C-H-A-E-L — “Allie, check this against my license…”

We slipped back in, and the clerk saw us. She eased over to us and took the paperwork. No one in the waiting room noticed we had circumvented the line that wound out the door, mainly because everyone was staring at their phones.

She had her license just before the closing bell. I get that the DMV clerk was just doing her job. She did what she could to help remedy the problem. While I guess there isn’t much difference to me between Mike and Michael, I can see her point. At least we were able to work through it. Probably wouldn’t have been so easy had I used Leonard.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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