What: A Hennepin County district judge turned down an unusual request to change a man’s name to a number.
When: On Feb. 13, 1978.
By any other name: Michael Herbert Dengler was a short-order cook and high school teacher. In fact, yours truly had him for social studies at Fargo North. In the late ’70s, he petitioned the court to change his name to 1069. Each number had significance, Dengler said. He explained that those numbers represented his personal identity and his relationship to society.
Northern States Power Co. let him register under his number name. His bank went along, as well. He even got a Social Security card as 1069, which would seem to suggest official approval. But Judge Donald Barbeau would have none of it.
Using numbers for your name would be “an offense to basic human dignity and inherently totalitarian,” Barbeau is quoted as saying to the New York Times. Why, these “faceless numbers” would lead to “abject dehumanization.” Dengler might be happy, but the rest of us? “Poor we will all be indeed.”
Dengler would appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and lose. No better luck with the North Dakota Supreme Court.
In 1985, he tried to get a marriage license as Michael IO Holtz — using the “IO” as a sly way to reference 10. The courts quashed that as well, and that’s the last time 1069 made the news.
No numeric changes: In this day of choose-your-own-pronoun, Dengler would seem to be a trailblazer. But you still can’t legally change your name to a number. Unless you spell it out, that is. “One Zero Six Nine” would have been legal. But for Mr. 1069, it was numbers or nothing.