Jobs and hobbies

Many New Yorkers use personalized plates to advertise their day jobs with plates like SELLHOMZ, DR4SPINE and METVIOLA – that one belongs to Désirée Elsevier, a violist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. There was also the Morgan Stanley employee who put the personalized plate 2BG2FAIL on his Porsche SUV before eventually swapping it out for the more subdued MNAGUY.

Among hobbies, golf (GOLFRMAN), hunting (D33RHNTR) and fishing (HAV2FISH) tend to dominate, but New York drivers also profess their love for activities like BOATRCNG, CAPOEIRA and ZUUUMBA.

Whether you consider slaying the undead a vocation or just an avocation, New Yorkers should feel safe from the zombie apocalypse: there are at least 18 self-described ZMBIHNTRs on the road.

Plates about cars

Perhaps the most common theme among personalized plates in New York is descriptions of the cars they're on. Many personalized plate owners boast about their cars' qualities – 1HOTJEEP, FASTCAR, ZOOMFOR2 – or just emphasize the make and model – 67MSTNG, MY84BENZ, 1959BUG.

Other automotive plates lean towards the self-deprecating – UGLYRV, MON3YPIT, ITSNOBMW – or make a statement about fuel efficiency. We can only assume that GASGUZLR and ZEROMPG are not attached to hybrids.

And then there are the truly matter-of-fact plates, like the New Yorkers who simply requested BLACKSUV and ABLUECAR.


Every New York pro sports team is well-represented (GONYG, DYANKSWN, KNICK5, BUFBILLS, JTSFAN, 86NYMETS), and at least 27 Derek Jeter-themed plates have been issued since 2010.

Star Trek fans are likely responsible for 2BLDLYGO and NCC1701T (one of the ship numbers of the USS Enterprise), while Harry Potter and Dr. Who fans may be behind GRIFFNDR and TIMELORD, respectively.

Other movie, music and television references of note include: AUTOBOT, BAYWATCH, BRKNBAD, GANDALF, HLLOKITY, CHEETARA, 5ITHLORD, KHALEESI and WUTNGVAN.

WNYC was unable to confirm whether the owner of 088MPH drives a DeLorean.

Words to live by

Some drivers opt for a sense of superiority with plates like IMEZ2NV, 2GOOD4U and 1PERCENT. Others exude good vibes with advice like RELAAAAX, PYIT4WRD and BECIVIL. And in case you were unclear about how many times you live, fellow drivers are ready to clarify that with YW8YOLO, SAYYOLO or YOLOSWAG.

The Red Guide

In order for a personalized plate to be approved in New York, it first gets checked against the Red Guide, a list of banned license plate configurations maintained by the New York DMV.

The current version of the Red Guide contains roughly 1,700 plates of varying degrees of obscenity and spelling creativity – it contains 33 variations on the word "fornicate" – but it also includes such prohibitions as IAMDRUNK, NOPLATES, NYRICAN and GAYPRIDE.

If a plate is not in the Red Guide, it may still be rejected if it is reserved for other use. Some plates are reserved for official vehicles, and others are set aside for use in film and television shoots.

Official business

If a plate is not automatically rejected, it is reviewed by the New York DMV's Custom Plates Unit according to several guidelines. One such guideline states that a plate may not imply that the owner is "operating in an official capacity for a governmental organization or function."

This likely explains why the Red Guide proscribes NYPD and USMAIL and why applications for NYCJUDGE, TAXICAB, EMSMEDIC and GOVERNOR were all rejected in recent years.

Meanwhile the plate UNDRCOVR, which is presumably not fooling anyone, was approved.

Also on the list of rejected plates? WNYC. We didn't order it, so dear listener, if you're out there, we're sorry. We owe you a bumper sticker.

Number games

Police need to be able to read license plates clearly at a distance, so the DMV reserves the right to reject overly repetitive plates (MWMMMMWM, IIII111I) and prohibits certain uses of letters or numbers, like using a zero in a word instead of the letter O.

This may explain why one lucky New Yorker was issued MJOLLNIR, the name of Thor's hammer, while an application for MJ0LLNIR with a zero was rejected.

Obscene and offensive

New York prohibits license plates that are "obscene, lewd, lascivious, derogatory to a particular ethnic or other group, or patently offensive," so it's no surprise that the list of rejections, while creative, is mostly unprintable.

Besides obvious obscenities and slurs in a variety of languages, this clause also seems to cover indirectly obscene references (OMGBCKY), profanity-by-abbreviation (LMFAO, WWTTFF), drug and alcohol references (GRYGOOSE, WHISKY) and some things that are just vaguely negative (IHAT3MYX).

The cat-and-mouse game between DMV reviewers and mischievous drivers is ongoing all over the country, with applicants finding new and clever ways to avoid notice. Several states have explicit prohibitions against plates that are obscene when viewed in a mirror. In California, use of the number 69 is reserved for model year 1969 vehicles. Earlier this year, Texas revoked a license plate that was obscene when viewed upside down.

Celebrities and public figures

There is no stated prohibition against using the names of public figures or brands on a New York license plate, but this seems to be a gray area. Plates like LIMBAUGH, CBSNEWS and GEICO have been rejected in recent years, while PEZCANDY and DTRUMP were both approved. The plate JAYLENO is banned in the Red Guide.

Plates making a statement about a particular politician generally seem to be allowed, provided they aren't obscene. New York has issued BADCUOMO, CANCUOMO, NOCUOMO and RMVCUOMO since 2010, only rejecting FAQCUOMO, which is probably not about frequently asked questions.

Review process

DMV reviewers trying to identify objectionable combinations are faced with lots of obscure references (ALTF4 quits the active window in the Windows operating system) and cryptic syntax (Math quiz: what's 2QPLUS2Q?). When the meaning of a plate is unclear, the DMV instructs reviewers to search "using the Urban Dictionary or Google to help decipher its meaning."

This may explain why an application for SKRILLEX was rejected in 2013: Urban Dictionary currently defines Skrillex as a Latin word meaning "Homosexual Satan Wasp," an apocryphal definition that is sourced to a satirical news site.

Free speech issues

The DMV has broad authority to reject custom plates using subjective guidelines, which leads to some controversy, especially when it comes to custom background designs.

The New York DMV used to allow organizations to submit their own license plate designs through the "Take Your Pride for a Ride" program. As a result, you can still get a New York license plate with a message like Telephone Pioneers of America, Birthplace of Baseball or Union Yes.

The DMV issued a moratorium on new designs in 2004 amid controversy over a design from the Children First Foundation (CFF) that contained the phrase "Choose Life." It was rejected due to its political sensitivity and the CFF went to court alleging a violation of First Amendment rights.

In May 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with the DMV, ruling that license plates do not constitute the sort of public forum that would require strong free speech protections. "Choose Life" license plates remain available in many other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut.

A month later, the US Supreme Court ruled in the similar case of Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., finding by a vote of 5-4 that the Texas DMV could reject a Confederate flag plate design because it constituted the government's speech, not private speech.

View the complete lists on Github

FUNLOVIN, DURTY and ALLSWAG: Understanding New Yorkers Through Their Custom Plates

If custom license plates are a 12-inch by 6-inch window into the New York state of mind, it is clever, fast and loves Derek Jeter. Here's some of what we found sorting through over 130,000 personalized plate applications accepted and rejected by the state DMV over four years.

Warning: This may contain explicit language, especially if you squint a little or sound things out.