THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENSVILLE COUNTY Judge W. Allan
Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, McClanahan, Powell, Kelsey, and
McCullough, JJ., and Millette, S.J.
BERNARD GOODWYN, JUSTICE
appeal, we consider what constitutes good cause for a court
to consider a petitioner's change of name application
under Code § 8.01-217(D).
January 7, 2016, James Gardner Dennis (Dennis), an inmate in
the Greensville Correctional Center, petitioned the Circuit
Court of Greensville County to change his name to James
Gardner Wright pursuant to Code § 8.01-217 (the
Application). The Application
complied with the notice and disclosure requirements of Code
§ 8.01-217(B), and stated that Dennis was incarcerated
in the Greensville Correctional Center, has felony
convictions for embezzlement, sexual abuse, carnal knowledge,
computer solicitation, and 20 counts of possession of child
pornography, and is required to register with the Sex
Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry.
Application asserted that Dennis sought the change of name
for a religious purpose. Dennis alleged that he had converted
to the "Native American Faith, " and a
"tenet" of this faith required the
"consolidation of his name with" that faith, so he
chose the last name "Wright" "in obedience to
the Great Spirit, " as it was "the last name of his
last full-blood Native American Ancestor."
circuit court denied the Application, stating that
The application of the petitioner revealing that he has been
convicted of twenty (20) counts of possession of child
pornography, one count of soliciting a minor over the
internet, one count of sexual abuse, and one count of carnal
knowledge, the Court does not find good cause for
consideration of the petition, and declines to accept the
same. The petition is DISMISSED.
Court granted Dennis's appeal of the circuit court's
argues that the circuit court erred in dismissing his
Application for lack of "good cause, " because he
asserted a religious purpose as the reason for his change of
name. He notes that this Court ruled in Stephens v.
Commonwealth, 274 Va. 157, 162, 645 S.E.2d 276, 278
(2007), that an application for a change of name asserting a
religious reason as the basis therefor is good cause for a
circuit court to, at least, consider the application.
§ 8.01-217(D) governs change of name petitions by
probationers, a "person for whom registration with the
Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry is required
pursuant to Chapter 9 (§ 9.1-900 et seq.) of
Title 9.1, or [an] incarcerated person." It provides
that "[n]o application shall be accepted by a
court for a name change of [such person] unless the
court finds that good cause exists for consideration
of such application under the reasons alleged in the
application." Code § 8.01-217(D) (emphases
court accepts such application for consideration, it must
then mail a copy of the application to the Commonwealth's
Attorney for the jurisdiction in which the conviction