In electoral politics, names matter. Studies and anecdotal evidence show that candidates whose names suggest a certain ethnic heritage— for example, an Irish-sounding surname in Chicago, or a Hispanic name in South Florida—outperform candidates without such names, and that “American-sounding” names and names with positive connotations can give candidates a leg up. Therefore, candidates for public office often seek to run under the name they regard as most electorally advantageous. Election boards, secretaries of state, and ultimately courts are often called upon to decide whether a particular candidate can run for office under a particular name.

This Article looks at various courts’ efforts to resolve legal challenges concerning a candidate’s eligibility to run for office under a particular name. Part II explains how different courts across the United States have resolved controversies over candidate names. Part III evaluates the various approaches reflected in the opinions discussed in Part II. Part IV discusses what a workable and fair system of regulating candidate names would look like, proposing that candidates should be allowed to appear on the ballot under whatever name they want unless doing so would result in unnecessary confusion between two candidates or some kind of deception, fraud, or bad faith. Part V explores the roles of various government actors in regulating candidate names, arguing that with clear legislative guidance, most controversies can be resolved by election boards and secretaries of state, with court intervention available as a last resort.