Being Kokko

“Kokko. Jon Kokko.” I like to say it in that ever so mysterious sense of saying, “Bond. James Bond.” I do confess it’s a bit difficult to pull off mystery and intrigue with a name like Kokko. The name Kokko typically falls into one of two categories: absurdly silly or totally cool. I’ve tried hard over the years to aim for the latter and, to a limited degree, there’s been success stories. Somewhere in the time of my youth I lost my first name completely and I was only addressed by the title of ‘Kokko’. This was just fine by me. I never realized the depths of this salutation until a man who knew me for years was in utter confusion when he heard someone calling me by the name of Jon.

As for that first name of Jon, it is more correct to say that it is, should probably be and certainly was the name John. Sometime in my teenage years, when juveniles typically revamp their identities, I dropped the letter h. Some of it was truly laziness on my part. Who wants to sign four letters when you can just sign three? God forbid I should have been named Jonathan! Then again, maybe I changed it because I didn’t like being named after a toilet. Either way, after dropping that letter h, I never felt an overly strong compulsion to put it back. ‘Jon Kokko’ managed to get his drivers license, passport and other such legal documents without any problems at all.

I’ve tried to research the etymology of Kokko with very little success. All I know for certain is that it is Finnish (as is my heritage) and there is a possible meaning of ‘Bonfire’. The Ancestry website says it’s based on kotka meaning ‘eagle’ although I’ve never heard that one before. There is a bonfire festival in Finland called the ‘mid-summer kokko’ which commemorates John the Baptist so I lean towards the bonfire definition. Beyond those few facts though, I have little understanding of the name or the history behind it. Perhaps some educated Finn out there could enlighten me? I hope to visit Finland some day but that is another adventure for another time.

Growing up with the name Kokko was not easy. Sometimes as kids we just want to blend in to the crowd and avoid being noticed. This is absolutely impossible with a name like mine. You’d have better luck with a name like Jones or Smith and let’s not forget how cruel kids can be. I’ve been called Kokko-puffs, Kokko-caine, Kokko-cola, Kokko-pops, Kokko-Loco and even Hot Kokko [ok, I gave that last one to myself]. I heard every humanly possible variation of the name by the time I reached the second grade. My poor [older] brother caught a firestorm of hell for having that name while he was in the Navy. Nobody wants a Recruit Division Commander that remembers your name!

I can’t say I catch too much flack with the name living here in the Philippines. It seems that there is also an Asian variant of it [mostly Korean I think]; But here my name is less important than my skin color. No matter what your name is here, if you’re Caucasian, you just got surnamed ‘Joe’. “Indi ko si Joe. Ako si Jon”, I’m quick to point out (as if they’ll remember).

There are those who firmly believe that our names are divinely inspired and sometimes I wonder how much that given name defines us. What has being Kokko created in my life that would not have been present were I named Smith, Jones, or anything else? Even if the questions exist, I don’t believe there’s a true answer to them. I am more apt to believe that we define the name given to us. Certainly, that is what other people will see and remember (Ecc 7:1). Regardless though, I still enjoy the pleasure of introducing myself with that cool mystique I like to think I have: “I am Kokko. Jon Kokko. And you would be…?”

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