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Vanity, Thy Name Is License Plate

Who doesn't like vanity license plates? We may not like them as much as Bruce Powers of Falls Church, whose obsessive interest in them I write about in my column today. But they usually bring a smile to our faces.

I think the model of automobile most likely to have a vanity plate these days is the Mini Cooper. I would say half the times I see a Mini it has a personalized plate. Well, perhaps more than half, given that I see My Lovely Wife's Mini every day and it has a custom plate.

We bought the car in 2002. It was among the first batch sent to this country. We'd never had a vanity plate before (to be honest, we'd always considered them a little naff, as the English say: uncool), but the Mini was crying out for one. But what?

You may not remember when BMW's recreation of the original Mini was introduced, so common is the car now, but at the time it elicited great interest. Wherever we parked people would come up to us and say, "That's sooooo cute. What is it?"

We enjoyed these encounters and so when we sent off the registration for the car we requested a personalized plate that would answer the question everyone was asking: A MINI.

I guess seven years later it's not a very clever plate. Maybe we should have gone with MINI ME.

What about you? Take our insta-poll and then tell us in the Comments section which custom plates you've had/seen.

In the U.K. you can't order vanity plates. Each new car gets a government-issued plate when it's first registered and the plate stays with the car forever--except in certain circumstances. The plate may be transferred and so there are companies that broker deals, offering plates that have your initials, say, or fit with the car's name or the owner's profession or personality in some way.

For example, the owner of a company that makes stainless steel beer kegs bought the plate 1 KEG for his Jaguar. English people I know are amazed, and a little jealous, that we Americans can just order up vanity plates, though they probably think there isn't much sport in that.

Where Is Where in Washington?
Starting today each week's "Where in Washington?" will post at precisely 11:30 a.m. Look for it then.

By John Kelly  |  February 16, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
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Virginia seems to have by far more vanity plates than any other state I've ever visited. What's the reason for that? Is it cheaper here? Are VA drivers that much more vain?

I always thought it'd be cool to have one but could never think of anything. My ride is an 03 honda accord, so I don't have much to be vain about anyway.

Posted by: lilybelle2 | February 16, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

lilybelle2 - John's Washington column points out that that is easy and cheap to get a vanity plate in VA.

If you want vanity, California issued nearly 800,000 vanity plates last year:

Also in California, you can get symbols on your vanity plate:


Posted by: DLDx | February 16, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I'm not overly fond of vanity plates unless they say something witty. I love the ones that are difficult to figure out, but once you get them turn out to be imaginative and/or amusing. "PRINCESS"? In your dreams. "MY STANG"? Gag. "WALSTIB"? "WALSTIB"? AHA, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Posted by: kbockl | February 16, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I had fun with a plate I had once. It said "4ourD&D" which meant to us for our children. This was on a Honda Odyssey. Often I would see young people looking confused since a mini van did not fit their image of a Dungeons and Dragons player.
Here is a plate for you to guess what the word is and what the meaning for the driver is "SOPWCML".

Posted by: NOVA2 | February 16, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

@NOVA2: That must mean "Sopwith Camel," so it's either a World War I RAF pilot or someone who loves Snoopy.

@kbockl: I wonder if the DMV would let someone have SNAFU.

@lilybelle2: The beauty of vanity plates is they spice up any vehicle. Even a Yugo.

@DLDx: Thanks for the links.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | February 16, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Here are two to figure out:

1. NE2511S
2. ASCII27 (on a Miata convertible)

Posted by: ajsmithva | February 16, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

We are one of those Mini owners. We have a 2005 Mini Cooper-S convertible. It's yellow with a black top. And my husband happens to be a journalist. So we went with "BUTRS B". A play on our last name, the color of the car, and a newspaper. Wouldn't mean anything beyond a wasp to anyone else. But for us, it's personal!

Posted by: chaulab | February 16, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse

loved my personalized VA plates....had the state bird and ...... of course Nall92 which actually means something, but only to my family!

Posted by: nall92 | February 17, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Years ago I wanted a mini and quickly got H8SUVS. Instead I ended up with a wagon, but it still works. People either love it or H8 it. I got a lot more thumbs up when gas spiked to $4/gallon!

Posted by: Marimom | February 18, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

For several years now, I have loved showing off my personalized license plates "FREE DC" on my black Honda Civic -- around town and on road trips. These plates express this DC resident's desire to acquire equal democratic rights. Featuring this popular phrase on DC's standard "Taxation Without Representation" tags is a bit of "automotive activism" that symbolizes my commitment to rectifying our political plight. FREE DC - Statehood NOW!

Posted by: FreeDCNow | February 18, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Here is a brief, light-hearted documentary I made about the process of getting a vanity plate in Massachusetts. Don't want to spoil the ending, but it all works out alright.

Posted by: dtjanis | February 18, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

One of my favorite vanity plates I've seen is on an old VW Rabbit. The plate: "Wascally"

Posted by: Gingergene | February 20, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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