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What's in a name? Not much for Van Ostern

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 05. 2016 10:11PM


Voters watching the Granite State Debates tonight to learn more about the candidates may not know that one of them, Democratic Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, did not legally exist by that name until a month before filing for his first elective office in 2012.

The Concord resident, currently polling highest among the three Democratic candidates for governor was, as the Union Leader first reported on Sunday, a one-time press secretary for a conservative congressman who was pro-life, anti-gay marriage and a favorite of the NRA. And at the time, Van Ostern’s legal name was Kevin Colin Van Ostern O’Loughlin.

As with President Bill Clinton, Van Ostern’s multiple name changes relate to having more than one father figure. Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III but at 15 took the name of his step-father, Roger Clinton, an alcoholic who physically abused Clinton’s mother before they divorced.

Van Ostern was born Kevin Colin O’Loughlin in Carlsbad, Calif., on Feb. 14, 1979. Family members used his middle name, Colin, to avoid confusion with his father, who was also Kevin O’Loughlin.

“I am a product of both my names and my family and how it has grown through tragedy and people coming together,” Van Ostern said.

Van Ostern, 37, explained in a commentary he wrote a year ago that his parents divorced when he was young and the first name change was to try to please both his father and step-father by taking both surnames.

“When I was about 8 years old, my mom asked me which of my parents’ last names I wanted to use,” Van Ostern wrote.

“Eager to include everyone  —  my mom, dad, and step-dad  —  I chose a mouthful: “Van Ostern O’Loughlin”. My parents signed off with a judge to make it official. I quickly realized that it never fit on any forms, from standardized tests to college applications, so I began just using Colin Van Ostern.”

The New Hampshire Union Leader found the first name change for Van Ostern in the Chesterfield, Va. Circuit Court came in May 1992 when he was 13.

“You are asking me about things that happened when I was eight or 13 years old and I don’t have a precise memory of that,” Van Ostern said.

Coming to New Hampshire, Van Ostern said it was his 18th house he had moved to.

“In my early years, I was raised by my single mom. We moved a lot,” Van Ostern wrote. “Most years, my first day of school in the fall wouldn’t just be a new grade, but also a new school entirely.”

Van Ostern’s named stepfather, Gerry Van Ostern, 46, suffered from mental health problems and took his own life in 1994 when Colin was a sophomore in high school.

According to a Richmond Times Dispatch story on Gerry Van Ostern, his widow, Jane, told the newspaper that her husband “became suicidal, then homicidal” and she swore out a warrant to get him committed to a psychiatric hospital.

At the time, Gerry Van Ostern was a leading figure in the Catholic Church as head of the diocesan Office of Christian Formation in Richmond.

Jane Van Ostern also told the newspaper that her husband had been sexually abused by priests while he was a seminarian in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In a review of publicly available records, Colin Van Ostern used that name often, including at 13 when he first received an amateur radio license from the Federal Communications Commission.

But in other settings, Van Ostern used the long full name ending with O’Loughlin.

While a student at George Washington University, the school’s email system apparently incorrectly identified him Colin Kevin Van Ostern O’Loughlin. That name also appeared under his photo in the GWU yearbook in 2000. But in a series of email messages from 1996 that were later posted online, he signed “Colin Van Ostern.”

“On both of my college diplomas, from GW and from Dartmouth, is my longer formal name,” he said. “For George Washington it was Colin Kevin instead of Kevin Colin because they made a mistake.”

Most recently the town of Hanover listed in September 2012 Kevin Colin Van Ostern O’Loughlin as the owner of a condominium unit Van Ostern lived in while getting his advanced business degree from the Tuck School at Dartmouth College.

“I have used my formal name whenever it fits,” he said. “Most business cards, resumes, I have used Colin Van Ostern in everyday use for the past 20 years. My driver’s license has the full Van Ostern O’Loughlin.”

He officially took Van Ostern as his last name in May 2012, a month before first running for public office, a seat on the Executive Council.

He said he checked to see if his full name would fit on the ballot and since it wouldn’t, he decided to change it once and for all.

“Sure enough, like all those standardized test forms and college applications it turns out the whole thing wouldn’t fit,” Van Ostern wrote in his commentary. “Either I could cut my last name off mid-word where the form ran out of space, or I’d have to legally shorten it. I opted to shorten it, and finally made official the name I’d been using since childhood: Colin Van Ostern.”

Merrimack County Probate Judge Richard Hampe signed off on the name change.

“O’Loughlin is now part of my middle name,” Van Ostern said. “It was important to me I am almost entirely Irish and I am proud of the O’Loughlin parts of me of me as I am proud of the Van Ostern parts of me.”

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