49ers’ Whitner legally changing name to Hitner

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Meet Mr. Hitner.

Called by that name for years out of respect for his hard-hitting defense, San Francisco safety Donte Whitner has filed paperwork in Ohio through his lawyer to formally change his name by removing the ‘W’ — after receiving permission from his mother, Deborah, to do so.

“My last name was Whitner, now it’s Hitner,” Whitner said Wednesday. “Yeah, it’s legal, I’m taking the ‘W’ off. I asked my mom first, though. She said no in the summer, then she said yes three nights ago. It’s pretty cool.”

Whitner has been in touch with Nike to determine how many No. 31 Whitner jerseys are still for sale in retail stores and elsewhere and whether he might need to financially contribute to make the switch.

He doesn’t seem overly concerned about that small part of the process.

“Depending how many there are,” he said. “I haven’t really seen that many around Candlestick, unless somebody’s hiding them.”

The $27 fee for legally changing his name is money well spent, Whitner said.

His uncle, Mario Whitner, helped encourage Whitner’s mother — Mario’s sister — to go along with the switch.

“The only person I really take instruction from is my mom. That’s why I’m happy this week she said yes. I asked her again,” Whitner said. “My uncle just came home and he pretty much convinced her. He was a guy that was there for me when I was a little, little boy and went away for a while, to prison.”

While he would love to debut his new name for Sunday night’s prime-time game at home in Candlestick Park against the Houston Texans, he said it realistically would probably take another week before his new name is on the back of his uniform. That would be Oct. 13 at Arizona.

Coach Jim Harbaugh learned of Whitner’s plans Wednesday, then approached him in the locker room with encouraging words: “It’s kind of catchy.”

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick also approved, offering a “good change” with a thumbs-up of support.

Is he taking a cue or two from Chad Johnson — who became Chad Ochocinco for a time — or NBA star Ron Artest’s change to Metta World Peace?

“That was a lot,” Whitner said of World Peace. “I think one word is not as big as 10 words. It’s what I do. It’s my last name. Removing a letter makes it pretty cool.”

No matter what it says on the back of the safety’s jersey Sunday, everybody on the defense has one name they want on the field: Willis.

Linebacker Patrick Willis missed last Thursday night’s 35-11 victory at St. Louis with a strained groin sustained against the Colts on Sept. 22, an injury even the All-Pro thought was far worse than it is.

Defensive teammate Justin Smith deemed Willis a go for Sunday, and he returned to practice Wednesday.

“He’s playing, so definitely,” Smith said when asked about Willis’ impact.

Willis is encouraged with his progress considering this is an injury he has never had before. Yet he insists he won’t play unless he knows he is healthy enough to help the team — and he is still dealing with some pain.

“The only thing I can do is have the right mindset,” Willis said. “The biggest thing right now is making sure I stay on pace and don’t do too much and at the same make sure that if I’m going to be out there I can help my teammates and help us win.”

The 49ers have no imminent updates or announcements planned on the status of linebacker Aldon Smith, who entered an in-patient rehab facility last week for substance abuse. He is on an indefinite leave of absence and the team doesn’t comment on personal matters.

Also Wednesday, San Francisco signed quarterback John Skelton to a one-year contract, giving them a strong-armed third-stringer.

Skelton signed a day after the Niners waived rookie B.J. Daniels, whom Harbaugh had hoped could still be a practice squad option before the rival Seahawks snatched him up off waivers. Skelton was cut by the Bengals on Aug. 31 when they set their 53-man roster. Cincinnati claimed Skelton off waivers when the Arizona Cardinals — the 49ers’ NFC West foe — let him go in April.

Skelton worked out for the team last month.

“He had an excellent workout when he was here a few weeks back, one of the better workouts I’ve seen from a quarterback in those workout environments,” Harbaugh said. “Felt like we wanted to have two veteran quarterbacks, two guys that have started games, played in games, won games. Felt that’s what we needed to do at this time.”

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