You can’t spell Virginia without V-A-I-N
RICHMOND — URSOVAIN, Virginia.
You too, New Hampshire, Illinois, Nevada and Montana.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has surveyed states to determine which have the highest percentage of personalized, or vanity, license plates.
Its finding: Virginia is the vainest of them all.
About one in 10 of the 9.3 million personalized plates nationwide are in Virginia, according to the organization. That’s 16 percent of the plates in the state.
New Hampshire came in second with nearly 14 percent. Illinois had about 13.4 percent, but it had more total vanity plates than any other state, with nearly 1.3 million.
Texas had the fewest, with only about a half percent of drivers opting to personalize their plates.
“If you’ve got 9.3 million people across the U.S. sporting vanity plates, you’ve got a cultural phenomenon,” group spokesman Jason King said.
Kathy Carmichael, 58 and a real estate agent from Mechanicsville, Va., has the plate COFENUT. The self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur drinks three cups a day but has had as many as eight to 10 cups daily.
Miss Carmichael said she often gets a thumbs up or a coffee toast from other drivers.
“It’s a personality thing,” she said. “You get to know something about the person in front of you or who passes you.”
Stefan Lonce calls it “minimalist poetry in motion” — telling a story in eight or fewer characters.
Mr. Lonce, author of the upcoming book “LCNS2ROM — License to Roam: Vanity Plates and the Stories they Tell” worked with the group to survey the agencies that issue licenses in each state. The New Yorkbased author acknowledges that he originally thought motorist were silly to spend extra money to personalize their license plates.
“I [now] think a lot of people have stories to tell, and they really want pieces of those stories out there,” he said.
The finding also are based on Federal Highway Administration statistics for 2005, the latest available.
Ion Bogdan Vasi, an assistant sociology professor at Columbia University, calls those who personalize their plates “the narcissistic/materialist poets of the IGeneration.”
“Most people buy personalized plates simply because they want to tell the world they are special,” he said. “They wrote an ode to themselves, and they want to share it with everybody on the highway.”
Some plates are fairly cryptic, such as Brittany Diaz’s EN PWANT.
It goes back to when the dancer, 17, of Midlothian, was studying ballet in New York for the summer as a young girl and her French teacher pronounced her favorite style of dance, en pointe, as “pwant.”
“Most ballerinas get it, and those who don’t dance I figured would be entertained because ‘pwant’ is just a funny thing to say,” she said.
Others are more personal, such as those of Ally and Rudy Masry of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Mrs. Masry donated a kidney to her husband in 2003. Her car has the tag DONOR. His reads DONEE.
Their messages are on specialty plates in which some of the proceeds go to a fund for organ donation and transplant research.
“I frankly thought it was the craziest idea to have personalized plates until this came along,” Mr. Masry said.
Initials and names are popular, as are sports teams and quirky takes on professions, such as EYEMAN or 2THDR.
Cherrie Hamilton of Dana Point, Calif., has the license plate BARRYFN to go along with her blog dedicated to Barry Manilow.
Dan Faulkner of Dublin, Ohio, has SHIBBYY, his favorite saying from the movie “Dude, Where’s my Car?”
Then there’s Vonn Campbell of Greenville, S.C., whose plate is BYTE1, showing off not only his computer science degree but “my desire to provide a somewhat abra- sive message to those individuals who follow too closely.”
But why does Virginia have so many personalized plates?
Perhaps, it’s the low cost of $10 a year. But it’s as cheap in some other states, and Illinois charges $78 a year and has more total personalized tags. Virginia and several other states also allow drivers to plug in endless letter-number combinations online until they find the perfect one, but so do a lot of other states.
“It’s only $10. You can do it online with little effort. You can get a new one every month if you wanted to,” said Benjamin Mace, a Virginia Beach Web designer who started CoolPl8z.com, where people post pictures of vanity plates and visitors can vote on the their favorite.
One thing is for sure, personalized plates are big business. The tags generated more than $9.4 million in Virginia last fiscal year, said Melanie Stokes, a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman. Most of the money stays within the department.
David Hollis has seen just about every kind of personalized plate, as manager of the tag plant at Powhatan Correctional Center, where all of Virginia’s license plates are made. Inmates there produce an average of 5,000 personalized plates each week.
One recent day, stacks of plates showcased a taste of Virginia’s interests — DBYA on a “Fight Terrorism” specialty plate, GOTFNS on a Jimmy Buffett-inspired plate, DAWGS2 on an animal plate.
“It’s something that they want to tell the world about, that they’re personal about,” he said while looking across the shop. “That’s why they call it personalized plates.”
Brittany Diaz does a point as she holds her personalized license plate, “EN PWANT” in front of her car in Richmond, Va.