I have a relatively long name, if you consider my first, middle and last names together. As individual pieces they are pretty short: Çetin means tough, difficult or insurmountable, while Kaya means rock or boulder, which makes my first and middle names as Çetin Kaya, a rock that is difficult to climb rock or an “insurmountable rock”. One might get the impression that my parents must have been pretty ambitious about me when they decided to name me, however, the real story is simpler and somewhat poignant: Çetinkaya is the name of a small town and train station between Sivas and Erzincan, two eastern cities of Turkey:
When my mother was pregnant, my father took a train from Istanbul, where he was doing his 24-month-long military service, and came as far as the town of Çetinkaya, where the train was stranded due to heavy snow. They were stuck there many hours, hungry and thirsty, until the snow was cleared out. The people of Çetinkaya brought bread and tea for the unlucky passengers of this coal-powered steam train, looking probably something like this:
This memory forever carved into my father’s brain is the story behind my unusual name. I say it is unusual because most people in Turkey have classical names, such as, Ahmet, Mehmet, Mustafa, and Ömer.
Furthermore, my last name Koç means ram (male sheep), which is a completely random choice. [Note: Since Koç is pronounced like Coach in English, my non-Turkish students often call me Dr. Coach or Professor Coach. ]
Someday I could tell you more; suffices to say that one day suddenly the Turkish Government of the day (1930s) decided that everyone should have a last name, and a clerk appeared by my grandfather’s door. Apparently, my grandfather selected this last name within a few seconds when asked by the clerk to quickly produce a last name. A few of my father’s cousins selected other and equally arbitrary last names, such as Balkı and Akyol. Thus, different branches of my family (my grandfather’s cousins) have different last names. These last names are not our “family names”. Due to the name of our great grandfather, we are known as “Şamo Tribe (Şamo Takımı)” in Kars, Ağrı and Iğdır. Another long and deep story.