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Koji's Column

Names & Inaugurations

Names have power. Names convey a message about who you are, where you come from, and has at times in our history meant that you were either on our side or “theirs.” My name is Koji Steven Sakai, what does that say about me?

Like a lot of kids, I dreamed of one day becoming President and ruling the country and all my minions with an iron fist. But I wasn’t a stupid kid. I knew my foreign sounding first and last names would instantly say that I was not like everyone, that I wasn’t from here, and that I was mostly likely an enemy. None of which are a good thing for a person wanting to run for president.

That’s why when I went to college, I decided to use my middle name, Steven. Steven conveys everything that Koji doesn’t. It suggests that I’m from middle America. It says that I’m the guy you would want to talk to at a bar. It screams that I’m patriotic.

I admit that I also thought about changing my last name to something else, but there were two things holding me back… 1. I didn’t think anyone would believe me when I said my name was Steven Smith. And more importantly, no one from my childhood would be able to find me on Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, and any other future social networking site that I will surely get roped into participating in in the future. And that would be truly a tragedy.

Anyway, this new name experiment lasted only a few days. I never responded to people when they said “Steven” and eventually they just started calling me Koji since that’s what I usually answered to.

Why am I talking about all of this? The reason is because on January 20, a new president of the United States will be sworn in. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the new president’s name is Barack Hussein Obama.

And I thought my name was bad. His is worse. Much worse. But he somehow overcame his name and actually became president.

What does this mean for me? It means that I actually have a chance to become president and that I don’t have to change my name. Yay! That’s a relief because I really don’t want to go through the hassle of changing my email accounts, my driver’s license, my social security card, my credit cards -- you get the point.

Okay, the chances of me becoming president are very slim. But it does mean that my children have a shot. Not one of those “everyone can be president” lies I heard as child, but for real. After all, a guy named Hussein actually won.

So to my future child, Tojo, Kazuo, Kaori (please bear with me, I’m just trying out a few names here): you can be president. I just hope that Japan and the United States never go to war again. Because then all bets are off.

© 2009 Koji Steven Sakai

About this series

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.