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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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