Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Associated Press

She knew her new name might finally stick when she got a phone message recently: "Hi, This is your mother. Please call me."

It might sound more than a little odd — but it's true. A young animal rights activist from Indiana once known as Karin Robertson has legally changed her name to that of a Web site run by her employer, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

It's not a first name or a last name — just one name. And don't call her "Veg" or "Dot," as some have tried to do.

"I like the whole name together," says the 23-year-old recent college graduate, who is now a youth educator for PETA and living in Norfolk, Va., where the organization is based.

The point, she says, isn't necessarily to promote PETA, where her bosses were as surprised as anyone when she came to them with the idea this past spring.

She says she made the switch to get people talking about vegetarianism and animal rights wherever she pulls out her new driver's license — at the airport, the bank or anyplace else.

"People are really perplexed," she says. "They say, 'You've got to be joking.' "

They usually laugh — and so does she.

"Every time I go to the bank, the tellers will report back about vegetarian food they've tried," she says, gleefully.

Her decision to take on such an unusual name also offers a chance to talk about the treatment of animals on farms and in processing plants — a source of heated debate.

The conditions under which chickens are raised and slaughtered was, for example, the topic of much discussion at the International Poultry Exposition in Atlanta earlier this year.

Agriculture experts there said animal rights activists are simply choosing sentimentality over science and practicality.

Now those in the agriculture field are rolling their eyes over's name change.

"It sounds like she needs to get a life," says Kara Flynn, a spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council, a lobbying group in Washington. "If she actually went on a farm and saw what was happening there, she might be pleasantly surprised."

The activist formerly known as Karin Robertson seems undaunted by the criticism — and that's not unusual, says her mother, Melanie Robertson, of Culver, Ind.

She says her daughter first became concerned about conditions of animals on farms after doing a science project for school. While still in high school, her daughter then joined an animal rights group on the campus of nearby Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Admittedly, her mother says, the name change has been difficult to get used to.

"My first comment was 'But your real name is so pretty. Why would you want to do that?' " says Melanie Robertson, a kindergarten teacher who named her daughter for a college friend.'s father, Bob, regularly eats vegetarian food, too, since having triple bypass surgery two years ago. But when it comes to his youngest daughter's name change, the fisheries biologist, who counts many hunters among his friends, is taking his share of ribbing.

Still, the family — most of whom says aren't vegetarians "yet" — is standing behind her.

"To us, she will always be Karin," her mother says. "But I think she has a good reason for doing what she's doing."

Copyright © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.