This page copyright 2012 Steve Ford http://geeky-boy.com and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Here's the scenario: your dear Aunt Sally's birthday is coming up. She has everything she wants, including enough ceramic figurines to sink the Titanic. When you ask her what she wants, she says, "Oh, just send a card."
Yeah. Right. Your mother will never let you hear the end of it.
Suddenly, you come upon an advertisement in the newspaper. You can have a star (of the outer-space variety) named after her. If you send the company some dough (Surprise! It's right within your price range) then that company will select a star from it's vast catalog, assign it to Sally, and send her a handsome certificate (suitable for framing, of course) along with a star chart to help her find "her" star. They even lock the catalog in a Swiss bank vault!
It sounds like a "no lose" gift! Even if Aunt Sally knows that you can't really get a star named after her, she doesn't know that you know! She will be touched by your thoughtfulness and will proudly hang the certificate in the spare bedroom.
But while you're writing the check, some nagging voice in the back of your head keeps chanting, "But it's not real."
That voice is right.
The companies that sell stars (there are several) do not have any "official" status. You could just as easily set up shop yourself claiming that you will name grains of sand on Miami Beach. You create a list of the numbers from one to a billion, and each time some sucker sends you the money, you write the name in front of the next available number and print up a certificate.
Please understand these facts:
I included that last item for a good reason. You can give basically the same gift by "adopting" a zoo animal in honor of Aunt Sally. And the money actually benefits a good cause. Or you can also make a donation to almost any charity in Sally's honor, and they will send a grateful acknowledgment to her.
Or you could just print up your own darn star certificate; it will be every bit as valid as the ones from the companies that sell them. Then you could pick a star that really says something about Sally, like the neutron star in the Crab nebula (you never did really like Aunt Sally).
If you really have your heart set on sending one of the companies your money, just ask yourself if you feel good about supporting a company that makes most of it's profit by deceiving it's customers. If you're cool with that, then go right ahead. Make the check out to "Steven Ford" and send it to me. I'll make sure that the company gets the money, and your Aunt Sally will get a gift that she won't soon forget. ;-)
Cecil Adams agrees with me; see http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_385.html
Sfordsez: if you haven't seen my standard disclaimer and copyright at
then check it out now.