Sory, I must excuse myself. I just checked the documentation, and there is no such thing as directly renaming a column in 8.1.7. I know I've read about this new SQL enhancement, I thought it was about 8i rel.3, but it obviously must have been a white paper of new features of 9i.

So until then, we will have to stick with that clums CREATE_NEW_COL -> POPULATE_FROM_OLD_COL -> DROP_OLD_COL method.