Real People Stories

The Story of Mr. O, Who Said Cheerio, O

UPDATED 12/16/1991 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/16/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

OTEMPORA! O MORES! STEPHEN O IS no more. After 23 years—and a kindly kick from someone at American Express—he has become Stephen Oh. And life should be, oh, so simple now.

Oh, yes, life was tough when he was just O. His minisyllabic surname, common enough in his father's native Korea, caused consternation in Falls Church and Vienna, Va., where Stephen and his five sisters grew up. Schoolkids called him "Spaghetti O," or "Uh-O," or sometimes chanted "E-I-E-I-O" in his presence.

At ball games, his friends turned to him to roar out the "O" part of "Oh, say, can you see?" His sister Jackie was teased about being Jackie O—and wound up being identified in her high school yearbook as Jackie O'Brien after a flustered editor tried to correct what seemed to be a typographical error.

But O, an A-OK student, didn't let it get to him. He graduated from the College of William and Mary last year and got a job as an insurance underwriter in Washington, D.C.

Soon his name was being dropped all O-ver town—unfortunately mainly from computers that couldn't handle a one-letter name. He was turned down for credit cards and a car loan. An auto insurer rejected him because it couldn't find his name at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

When the computers did get Stephen O's name, they got it wrong. One finance company knows him as "S.O. Stephen." At the Department of Motor Vehicles, he became "Stephen OO." And a video store calls him "Mr. Blank Blank O."

Finally, one morning a customer representative at American Express told Stephen O: "Sir, it sounds to me like you're just gonna have to get your name changed."

Stephen O had grown tired of fighting. And sooooooo, in August, he went before a judge in Fairfax, Va., and formally became Stephen Oh.

"I just can't believe it," he says. "I, a law-abiding citizen, who did nothing wrong, I've gotta change my name for the sake of those corporate giants."

O. Yes. Or rather.... Oh, yes.

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