Each year, as Father’s Day approaches, my thoughts turn to the history of my family’s name.
It’s funny, because it usually takes five or six times for it to sink in that Corry isn’t my first name.
Invariably, at first, everyone from colleagues, to everyday folks I meet at events, to political officials, call me Corry. Or they’ll write or respond to emails by addressing someone named Cory, Cori, Corey, or Corri.
Maybe it’s because Carl isn’t common, like John or Michael.
According to the Social Security Administration. Carl ranked 64th among the most common birth names over the last 100 years. It’s been more popular in some years than others.
Without a doubt, it’s in a sweet spot for entertainment writers who use it for characters who are either dumb, evil, or the butt of jokes. Pay attention to the next movie or advertisement with a guy named Carl. They fall under one of those categories.
And then there’s this. My daughters played it over and over again. That was loads of fun. Stop after the first 10 seconds and you’ll get the picture.
Oftentimes, people I speak to on the phone first or connect with via email who haven’t check my social accounts are surprised I don’t possess Irish or Scottish features.
Their expectations would no doubt be different, and people would probably call me by my first name sooner, if my surname hadn’t been changed from Coccari.
Deep Italian roots
The fact is, according to AncestryDNA, I’m genetically 90% Italian.
After nearly two decades of genealogical work, it’s easy to see why.
My father was born in Sant’Andrea Apostolo dello Ionio, Calabria, a 1,000-year-old small town overlooking the Ionian Sea at the toe of Italy’s boot. Both of his parents’ ancestors come from the same town going back generations, if not centuries. (I wrote a travel blog about my trip there with my uncle Bruno in 2007.)
On top of that, my mother Mary Rose’s ancestors center mostly around Alcamo, Sicily, Stromboli and Naples, according to my research. Her grandfather, my grandpa Mikey’s father, was a French national.
Like many families who emigrated to the U.S., our surname was changed to be more “American.”
My paternal great grandfather, born Bruno Coccari, came to the U.S. in 1913 at the age of 14. He followed his father, Carmine, and two of his brothers, who came several years earlier, to Canton, Ohio.
Bruno joined the Army in WWI and served in France, where his superiors found it difficult to pronounce Coccari (CO-ca-ri). He wound up getting KP duty, or kitchen patrol, peeling potatoes if he didn’t understand when someone was calling his name.
An Irish lieutenant suggested he change it to Corry to make life easier for himself. And so he became Bruno Corry — the only one of four brothers to change his name. He also had three sisters.
My maternal great grandfather, born Salvatore Lucchese, had a similar experience in WWI. His name was changed to Samuel Lukas. He tried to get it reversed over the years to no avail.
Interestingly, both Bruno and Sam, as well as my great grandmother, Rose, Sam’s wife, are buried in the same quad at Long Island National Cemetery in Melville, not 200 feet away from each other.
Another Irish intervention
After the war, Bruno returned to Sant’Andrea, married, and then returned to Canton, Ohio, where my grandfather, his only child, was born. He probably planned to name his son Carmine after his father, as is tradition, but the Irish midwife wrote down Caroll on his birth certificate instead. So what likely would have been Carmine Coccari, and my own name, is officially Caroll Corry.
My grandfather is 94 years old, lives in Brooklyn and goes by Carlo mostly, but friends who are still around from the Old Country call him Carmine.
Carlo wound up moving to Sant’Andrea in 1940, ahead his parents who wanted to return home permanently, before WWII broke out and he was cut off from communicating with them and was left largely to fend for himself for several years. It’s a fascinating tale in itself that I hope to soon complete.
During that time, Carlo married my grandmother, Vittoria, who is also 94, and they had three children, including my father, Mario, the youngest.
They all permanently moved to the U.S. in the early 1950s.
I was named after my grandfather, but my parents didn’t call me Carlo, in part because they wanted to avoid discrimination and because Carl was even more American.
Nowadays, Italian Americans have experienced a resurgence of pride in their heritage as the world has come to appreciate our culture and love of family, food and friends.
No matter how you spell my name, or which name you start with, that won’t change.
Happy Father’s Day.
Above: Bruno Corry and Carlo Corry