Vanity license plates

Some people like to get vanity license plates for their cars to send some message. I have never quite seen the appeal of this nor of putting bumper stickers but it is a harmless enough practice. But states that issue these plates have to be constantly on their guard to ensure that people are not slipping past them some plates that have an underlying message that violates the state’s requirements that the plates be in good taste and not offensive. This is not an easy task since people are quite imaginative.

This article describes some of the questionable requests that the state of California gets and the reasons for declining or allowing them.

As one of the most diverse states in the Union, California contains an expansive lexicon of offensive, lewd, and inappropriate words and cultural references. (Californians speak at least 220 languages – that’s 220 different ways to say “poop.”) But armed with Google Translate, Wikipedia, and Urban Dictionary, the DMV’s sentries gamely manage to weed out profanity in multiple languages, coded Nazi symbolism, and obscure internet acronyms.

Here is one that was rejected despite the applicant’s claim that it was the innocuous message “Have unwavering faith (4) respect the Day”.

Surprisingly, given the religious climate in the US, they allowed the plate below, even though they saw through the applicant’s claim that it stood for “Saint Anne is an important historical figure, and someone who I model my life after” and that it really stood for Satan.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    I heard some DJ discussing vanity plates; must have been a few decades ago. Apparently they also check how the message would read in a rear view mirror. I think the attempt was “3M TA3” (mirror of EAT ME)

  2. kestrel says

    I knew a guy who had a vanity plate for his motorcycle that said “KCUF”. This was in UT…. the poor Mormons didn’t realize what that would look like backwards and let him have it. Fortunately that bike was hardly ever on the road.

  3. mastmaker says

    For some reason, the re-introduction of yellow-on-black (like the second one above) plates have inspired people to come up with completely unintelligible combinations. I have observed that I can -- almost always -- figure out the message behind most regular CA license plates, but fail to read 8 out of 10 yellow-on-black plates. Is it a generational thing? (am I getting too old to be Cal?)

  4. larpar says

    I don’t remember the exact spelling, but one of my cousins had vanity plates that read something like: VN8TY PL8

  5. Chempion Speler says

    Long time lurker, first time commenter here.

    I have a vanity plate. It is my Ham radio call sign. Fellow Hams would know since call signs follow certain guidelines but it would likely appear as gibberish to the vast majority. I am, however, considering switching back to a regular plate because Ham call signs can be easily looked up -- the FCC helpfully maintains personal details like home address on their publicly accessible website.

  6. DonDueed says

    Some years back, New York changed their plate color scheme to black on yellow-orange, which a lot of residents didn’t like at all.

    On a drive through NY, I saw this vanity tag: UGLI PL8. It was, indeed, a black-on-orange plate.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    As I understand it the Jockey Club also police the names people try to give racehorses. My favourite attempt at naming a horse came from an owner in East Anglia, who wanted to call their beast “Norfolk and Chance”.

    You need to say it out loud.

  8. deepak shetty says

    My colleague got ALPHAQ through the CA DMV in 2008 -- He had to cite a cartoon character with that name as his childhood favorite

  9. jrkrideau says

    HUF 4RTD
    I tend to see letters not hear them so the joke completely escapes me.

    Re Ham Radio licences
    I see a fair number of them every year but I live in Canada so the confidentiality laws may be different. And, besides, it takes a bit of learning to decode the call-sign.

  10. Trickster Goddess says

    I would like to get a vanity plate that says “CAR”. Both unique and generic at the same time. I checked into it once, years ago, but someone else already had the same idea.

  11. Don F says

    Medical people often call motorcycles “donor cycles” and here in Med City (Rochester MN, home of the Mayo Clinic) there is a Harley rider who has DONOR as his vanity plate.

  12. ridana says

    I once passed an immaculately restored classic car from probably the 30s and said to myself, “What a beauty!” Then I looked back and saw the license plate was “SHUR IZ.”

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