Who am I?

Who am I? Leah Larkin. Carol Larkin. Leah Koester. Leah Kulton Koester. Leah Carol Koester. Carol Koester.

I have been all. It’s a crazy, complicated tale. Read on.

If not interested in my name saga, scroll down for photos of my neighborhood in southern France.

The press interviewing the press, Leah Koester, at my recent naturalization ceremony.

Ever since my first marriage to Dennis Larkin, ions ago, I have been Leah Larkin. No more – at least not in France where I am now a citizen and Leah Koester. I am, however, still an American citizen, and still Leah Larkin for US purposes.

At the time I married Dennis, I was embarking on my career as a journalist. My first job as a reporter was at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Up until then, I had gone by my middle name, Carol. Carol Koester (my maiden name) became Carol Larkin. My boss at the newspaper was Carol. There was another “Carol” reporter. And, I now had a sister-in-law, also called Carol Larkin. Too many Carols.

Leah Larkin, Courier-Journal reporter.

Carol Sutton, my boss at the C-J declared, “You will be Leah Larkin.” Not a bad byline. I liked it.

Once during a telephone interview, after introducing myself as “Leah Larkin,” my interview subject responded: “Give me a break, lady. Why not tell me you are Lois Lane.”

At the time of my divorce from Dennis, I asked for nothing, just his name. He was happy to oblige. When I married Bob Kulton, I did not become Leah Kulton. I remained Leah Larkin. It is the official name on my US passport, with Social Security, on all credit cards, membership cards etc.

Married Bob Kulton, but remained Leah Larkin

We moved from Germany to France 14 years ago. No name problems in Germany since all documents were through the US military. I was Leah Larkin at the newspaper Stars and Stripes where I worked, and Leah Larkin  on the initial French documents – residency permit, health insurance card etc. But then, I decided to apply for citizenship. Little did I know what lies ahead.

Lots of paperwork and patience required. I persisted,  and after several years, it worked. I got a letter – you are French. However, more time and paperwork before I could get the official documents, a French passport and ID card. That is when the Merde  hit the fan.

Stars and Stripes reporter Leah Larkin interviewing Vidal Sasson – long. long ago..

My name is Leah Larkin. I assumed I could continue to be Leah Larkin. Wrong. In France a woman is legally known by her maiden name all her life. She can have a second name, “nom d’usage,” (user name), but it cannot be any name. It must be the name of her current spouse. It is illegal to use the name of a previous spouse. Now I had a French passport and French ID card with the name “Leah Koester,” and “nom d’usage, Kulton.”

How will anyone know that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are the same person? I was worried. This looks suspicious. I could be a spy, a terrorist.

If I go to use a credit card, or carry out a transaction at the French bank where I am still Leah Larkin, and then I show a French ID card with the name Leah Koester, problems could arise. I envisioned other scenarios where this could be a catastrophe.

Why couldn’t I get a legal document certifying that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same, that I am not a spy, nor a terrorist? I checked with a lawyer. No way.

The only path to legally be Leah Larkin in France requires hiring a lawyer and going to court. My identity fate would be up to a judge. I envision hefty legal fees, lots and lots more paperwork, and then perhaps the judge would not rule in my favor. And, if he did, yet again  more paperwork to apply for a new passport and ID card.

Just getting this far has required  ample time and energy. I am burned out. I am happy to have dual citizenship. I will live with dual identity. Maybe it could be an advantage. Am I too old to become a spy? How about heading to Russia to get the real dirt on you know who?

Leah Carol Koester singing in the rain.

Name confusion and change started in my childhood. My mother insisted I be called “Leah Carol.” Double names were the thing back then. In the 8thgrade, a boy said I had queer name. He made fun of it. That was a different era – what boys thought was important. I went home, crying to my mother. We can fix that, she said. You can be “Carol.” Throughout high school and university and Peace Corps, I was Carol Koester. Some folks who knew me back then still call me Carol, including one of my three brothers.

Confused?  Me too.

Carol Koester, second from left, at Northwestern University with fellow members of our dorm French corridor where we were all supposed to speak French at all times. Whoever thought I would become French?



For the record, Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same. Leah Koester is proud and honored to be French. Leah Larkin would be even prouder.

Scroll down to see photos of Leah Larkin’s — no, Leah Koester’s –new neighborhood on the Riviera.

Beach at Roquebrune Cap Martin — before the tourist season.
Back in the Luberon, I photographed lavender. Here it is bougainvillea. Both are exquisite.
Bust of Le Corbusier along the seaside trail named for the architect.
Mt. view from our apartment.

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35 thoughts on “Who am I?”

  1. I knew you in Chicago as my sister Carol Koester. If you want to do the world an enormous favor travel to
    Russia and find the dirt on you know who. Just when we think it won’t become anymore intolerable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You barely mentioned how difficult these numerous name changes have been for your three brothers. I’ve had to adjust to all of these. I respect my older brother for refusing to entertain this madness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Steve. After all these years this has been somewhat confusing.
      For me my sister is Carol. No more of this AKA’s.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well I remember Leah Larkin and vaguely remember Leah Carol Koester… All I really know is you are lucky to be in the South of France! Congratulations on the Dual Citizenship – just make sure to travel with the French passport….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations Leah!
    I certainly remember the fun time we had at your wedding……
    Would love to hear how you and Bob are enjoying your new place and if the kitties have settled in. If you have new contact info, could you email me please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fun at the wedding, and more fun on all those fabulous Swiss mt. hikes you arranged for us. We remember all.
      All is well at our new abode. Cats have adjusted to apt. life. I will be in touch.


  5. Hi Leah!
    Trina here: it has been forever and I apologise. The past few years ( dare I say 9/10) have been a challenge to say the least. I just read your post and had to laugh since I’m still living in Italy where they are masters at such scenarios! Tutto il mondo e paese; especially when dealing with bureaucracy : have to admit that after over 30 years sometimes I long for US/ UK clarity (Brexit excluded of course.)
    Could you please send me you current email or What’s App details. My email is the same. Would love to hear from you! 😘


    1. Trina! What a treat to hear from you after too long. This endeavor was not easy in France, but Italy may indeed be even more daunting.
      In our new locale, we are almost in Italy — now closer to you. We must get together. I will be in touch.


  6. A very fun read, and my favorite part was all the lovely pictures of you during many different decades. Feels like getting to know you all over again. xLynne


  7. I loved your article. I have same problem. My maiden name is Sarles and in Quebec that had to be my legal name but I was allowed to use my then married name of Eddy and at some point women were allowed to use whatever name they chose as long as the maiden name was incorporated. Thus I became Sandra Sarles Eddy. When I divorced and re married I chose legally to keep my first married name rather than change all documents. As far as Quebec is concerned, any legal correspondence is sent in my maiden name.


    1. Yes, as friend Norm (comment above) says “a tangled web.” Lucky for you, Quebec is less tangled. I have since learned that many other countries, not just France, stipulate that a woman must always legally use her maiden name. C’est la vie.


  8. Wow, Leah, what an odyssey of names en route to becoming French. Great story, happy you shared all the background, and the fascinating, nerve-wracking complications of attaining Frenchness. Who woulda guessed 👏🍷😊

    Best wishes to you and Bob, Len

    Sent from my iPad



    1. Too many names. But, I am very proud to be French. And, now thanks to those amazing American women soccer stars, I can be proud to be a US citizen, too. However, there is still far too much about the US that one must be ashamed of, but that is another story. Vive la France!


  9. I guess I would run into that same issue. Oh well. France probably doesn’t want me in any case. Great new place to live. Congrats!!!!


  10. I think I’m in the NU dorm photo–don’t worry I won’t put the date. Admittedly, I have to make a quick mental adjustment to call you Leah after all this time. Now it seems that there are lots of name options…but I do like your current byline.


  11. Leah, for me you will always be Carol. Your name saga is fascinating. I have to agree with the French—the first is the best and less confusing. Lovely new ‘hood you have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess in the long run, life would be less complicated if we kept at least one name forever.

      The neighborhood is lovely, very different than our surroundings up north in the Luberon. I love the combination, sea and mountains. thanks for commenting,


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