My mom’s paternal grandfather Leopold Koch came over from Czechoslovakia, where his last name was pronounced with a hard O and a guttural ch. But upon landing in “the new country,” he asked the Ellis Island immigration officer how he’d pronounce it, since Leo wanted to fit into his new home. The officer pronounced it in a way that rhymed with scotch, so that’s how our family has always pronounced it ever since, despite many people assuming it is more along the lines of “Coke.” When Ed Koch (no relation) was elected Mayor of New York City, they were elated, since he too pronounced it “Kotch.” And now my mom makes sure to distance herself from the ultraconservative Koch brothers Charles and David, saying “No, we’re not related – they pronounce their name ‘Coke.’”
Since coming to America, my family has slowly worked their way further and further west: From Ellis Island, great-grandfather Leopold and his wife Esther Baum Koch made their home in Oklahoma City; my grandparents raised their family in Dallas, and my mom and dad eventually took the hugest leap, moving to the territory of Hawaii before it became the 50th state.
Moving to the mainland for college (reversing the direction of my predecessors), I was often treated by folks here as though I’d come from an exotic foreign country. I was asked if people in Hawaii still lived in grass shacks, and someone once complimented me on my English. While partying one Saturday night early in my freshman year, one of my college friends mentioned that it was the night that we got to push our clocks back an hour. I asked “Say, what?” and they explained that late that evening we would gain an extra hour. I told them that I’d never heard of anything so ludicrous, and that I may be an island boy from the middle of the Pacific, but you can’t fool me into thinking something as implausible as that was real! It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning and heard the chiming of the bell-tower across the street that I learned that “Daylight Savings Time” was not a put-on, and that Hawaii and Arizona are the only two states not to succumb to this insanity! (As the old joke goes, “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.”)
- Read more American Stories.
- Share YOUR American Story and we’ll publish it on the PNB Blog.
- Come see American Stories at PNB, June 3-12