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The Name Game

By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 06, 2010

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

Read more "Getting to 'I do.'"

Life will change in a lot of ways after the wedding, and one of the weirdest, will be taking a new name. I haven’t thought much about this until recently, probably because it’s as difficult to imagine as changing my eye color or the language I speak. My name, after all, is a fundamental part of me.

Aside from that, I’ve heard from married friends that it’s somewhat of a process to legally change your name. There are official documents to correct, not to mention e-mail addresses. I’ll soon be applying for a passport for our honeymoon – location yet to be determined – and I’m wondering whether it will bear my unmarried name for years.

Work further complicates things, because my byline appears on top of my stories in the paper several times a week. Will readers pick up on the switch? Will anyone even notice? And I’m not even going to get into the realm of Facebook – it might be a good thing, after all, if people I haven’t spoken to since second grade can no longer surprise me with a friend request.

Thinking I’ll cross those bridges when I get there, for the time being I’m hung up on what I actually want to be called once I’m married. Do I drop the last name? But I’ve been a Valle my whole life! Do I really want to cut that symbolic tie to my family? Or do I lose my middle name, Anne, and shift the last name back to the middle?

This seemed like the more palatable option until I mentioned it to my parents, who frowned, saying they deliberated for months on the name when my mother was pregnant with me. They considered Kirsten Anne the perfect-sounding combination, full of thought and meaning and history, and said my middle name was just as much a part of me as my last name or my first, for that matter. So, back to square one.

Amazingly, though, contemplating all this isn’t exhausting – it’s exciting. For one thing, Reese’s last name is easier to pronounce than mine. This will be a welcome change, considering all the confusion my first and last names have caused over the years. Once, as a reporter for the student paper in college, I left a message for a source – who promptly returned the call, asking if he could speak to “Carson Daly.” Even Reese mispronounced my name when we first met – I distinctly remember saying, “No, Kirsten. Rhymes with ear.”

But more importantly, taking Reese’s last name is yet another way we’ll be one after the wedding. It’s another symbol of joining our lives, of starting fresh, of building our own family.

The whole process might seem a little daunting, but people get married every day, and they figure it out, so I know I will, too. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how much names mean, and how much they can say about our families, our lineage, our past and our future. I understand why my parents thought for so long about what to name me – and I’m sure one day in the future, I’ll go through the same with my own children.

But although I’ve realized how much names are indeed a part of us, just like our eye color or the language we speak, they can change.

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