My big fat Greek name

The summer of 1969 made for a media frenzy. Newspaper headlines chronicled the Stonewall riots, landing on the moon, the Manson murders, Woodstock, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick and the Miracle Mets.

But of all the events that defined that summer, the one that meant the most to me didn’t get much media attention.

On August 13, 1969 I was “born again.” No, not in a spiritual sense. My “faith awakening” had occurred several years prior. The rebirth I have in mind occurred when I stood with my dad and mom and brother in a Chelan County courthouse. My seventeen-year-old ears heard the bang of a gavel reverberate in the mostly empty courtroom.

That was the day our surname was legally changed from “Smith” to “Asimakoupoulos.” My paternal grandfather’s decision to surrender his Greek name upon becoming a citizen four decades earlier was reversed.

Reclaiming our “big fat Greek name” was not a spontaneous action nor did it happen in a vacuum. It was a thoughtful decision pondered over many years. With the popularity of Alex Halley’s book “Roots,” our culture seemed to issue an invitation to celebrate one’s ethnic heritage.

As my dad dug around his Greek roots, he made a discovery. It was a relative treasure chest buried in the rich soil of familial pride. Being an Asimakoupoulos was something to cherish, not abandon.

From Dad’s perspective my grandfather had made a hurried decision amid social pressures to homogenize when he arrived in America. There were plenty of Smiths to go around. There were very few whose last names could take a fourteen letter curtain call. And so the name-change process commenced.

Forty-five years later our nation is a much different place. We are a culture whose vision of diversity is closer to 20/20 than it was in 1969. You don’t have to watch the Food Network to be convinced that our cultural taste buds now crave ethnic stew with recognizable chunks of diverse ingredients more than a pureed soup that lacks spice or color.

Have you noticed? Places of worship are becoming ethnically diverse. We welcome the traditions and values each background brings to the table. Communion has come to mean more than just sharing a loaf and a cup.

On this anniversary of my personal “rebirth,” I am grateful that I live in a nation where your roots need not be severed or denied.

Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the Chaplain at Covenant Shores.


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