What’s In A Name, Really?

No one told me that changing my name would be so traumatic. Truthfully, before getting married, I internally hemmed and hawed about taking my husband’s last name. In the end, the panache of my new name (LaRue—literally meaning “the street” in French) won out. Once I decided this, I thought that when I said, “I do,” I would cease being Kristen Burt forever.

My first public encounter as Kristen LaRue was easy. At a small Montana bank, my account name was changed immediately, no questions asked. Well, that was easy, I thought. I suffered a pang of apprehension—it did almost seem too simple. I must admit, I did worry sometimes that LaRue sounded a bit … well, fluffy. (I had recently watched a movie where an exotic dancer was named “Fifi LaRue.”) That didn’t stop me, however, from heedlessly signing “Kristen LaRue” wherever I went.

But then, we moved.

A long trip through the desert, a car breakdown, a couple of sketchy hotels and a freeway crisis later, we arrived at our new hometown, Phoenix, Ariz. Because we relocated so soon after getting married, our marriage certificate was delayed in arriving. And we didn’t have the original license, so I had to sign our apartment lease with my old name—Kristen Burt—the dead name of the old me.

After that, my former self began popping up everywhere. Since we didn’t have the original record of our union, I couldn’t get my new Social Security card. Since I didn’t have my Social Security card, I couldn’t change my name on school records, my driver’s license, my license plates, my bank account … credit cards … frequent flyer card … address labels … school ID … checks … video rental cards. All knew me as my bygone self—no, worse: some horrible, temporary person named “Kristen Leigh (Burt) LaRue.”

After receiving an email with this detested extended moniker, a friend prefaced his next communication with: “Hello, Kristen Leigh Burt LaRue Mustard Seed Tomato Plant Gravel Pit.” Really, I told myself, this is getting ridiculous. Even my friends are getting confused.

Strangely, though, I could register to vote as Kristen LaRue.

In the midst of all this drama, I really began thinking about the whole marriage-name-change experience. I fixed my attention on the moment in our wedding ceremony when, after being pronounced “husband and wife,” I sat with my new husband and family. I looked across the aisle at the Burts—my former family—and I was devastated. I wanted to fly out of my seat and cling to my parents for dear life. I wondered why no one had warned me that my wedding day would be among the saddest I’ve had? All the joy, all the day’s ecstasy barely camouflaged the instant of shock I felt when I knew I had been transformed. I was no longer a child, and I was no longer a “Burt”; the people sitting across the aisle from me would now be only a small part of my family identity.

Now, in the desert (which seemed an appropriate place for feeling lost), I still wasn’t Kristen LaRue. But I had ceased to be Kristen Burt. So who was I now?

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It seems that now is the place in this story to tell you that I discovered I was pretty much the same “me” inside, no matter what I was called. However, I was changed—and I knew it. But what I found surprised me.

I am an amalgamation of who I used to be—and who, for the rest of my life, I am working to become. Really, I am a new version of Kristen: a married woman and, I’ve discovered, a part of the LaRue family’s Louisiana roots (Louisiana—who knew?). Marriage has taught me that I am strong—but can be a bit too harsh. I am sensitive and tender and stubborn. Along with my husband, I am a dancer (but not an exotic one), and I am a wife; alone I am a writer. I am sometimes a difficult person to live with. I am selfish, but I am learning. I would not have found myself were it not for going nameless while I sorted through all these identities. I had tried both losing the past and clinging to it—but neither was acceptable. It was the “marriage,” so to speak, of my halves that made me make sense.

I don’t really approve of hyphenating (it’s so confusing), so when I finally did get my Social Security card, I added “Burt” to my middle name. Kristen L.B. LaRue is how I know myself now. In this way, a connection to my origin is not gone completely. Plus, I’m hoping that having two middle initials keeps me from sounding too much like a nightclub stripper.

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