Futurist & Social Critic / Writer, Speaker, consultant

What's With the Name? My Family Heritage


People often ask whether I "got the name through marriage." I suppose that this is so, in a way--the marriage of my parents, Sophie Koltko and Odilio Rivera (shown at left), who met on the Lower East Side of Manhattan back in the Fifties. They are both gone, now, but they live on in the multifaceted heritage that they have passed on to me and my descendants.


The Koltko Side

My mother is pictured at left; she was born in 1936 on the Lower East side of Manhattan in New York City. Her side of the family is itself multicultural. 


Her mother Marja (known as 'Mary' in America, or 'Nany' to me) was from the Zambrzycka family of Stelmachów, near Kraków in Poland. Nany was a devout Roman Catholic. She grew up on a farm, and came to New York City on the S. S. United States  in the Spring of 1928, at the age of 25; she worked for years as a seamstress in the sweatshops of the Lower East Side.

My mother's father, Zygmunt, was born in Connecticut to a family from the  Zielona Góra region of Poland; they returned to Poland when he was a youth. Grandpa Zygmunt returned to the U.S. after fighting in World War I; he met Nany on the Lower East Side.

These days, judging from Facebook and from family who have visited Eastern Europe, lots of folks named 'Koltko' live in Russia or Ukraine, spell their name  "Колтко"--and many are Jewish. My belief is that my mother's father's family were descended from Jews who left Russia to escape the pogroms of the 19th century. 


The Rivera Side

My father is pictured at left (with a very young me). He was born in 1929 in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood in New York City. His parents had become American citizens when all Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship in 1917 (the United States having acquired Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War).

Puerto Ricans are inherently multiethnic and multicultural. As a group, Puerto Ricans have ancestry mainly from three sources: 

  • Spain and other areas of mainland Europe (about 64% of contribution to ancestral genes);
  • the Taino, the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Puerto Rico (about 15%);
  • Africa, through the importation of slaves (about 14%).

These percentages were determined by researchers of population genetics in 2011.


Changes in My Name

I started off life as Mark Rivera. In college, I adopted my mother's maiden name, and became Mark Koltko (under which name I wrote my first publications). Late in my doctoral education, I decided to take my father's name back and incorporate it with my mother's, and I legally became Mark Koltko-Rivera.

Ultimately, like so much else in life, one's name is a choice. 

How I Identify Myself

 Given all this, how do I identify myself? Like this.

  • Race: Human.

  • Ethnicity: Tri-Continental: European (Polish, Spanish, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish), African (Black Africa), and North American (indigenous Taino).

  • Nationality: Native- or natural-born American

  • Citizenship: United States of America: the land of many peoples, but one nation.

"But what do you say when you fill out forms?" That depends on the form, what the form is for, and how I feel about filling out forms on that day.

Ultimately, I define myself. This is the most basic of human freedoms. What others make of me is their own business.