What Does Koinonia Mean? For Scripps National Spelling Bee Champ, It Means ‘Victory’

Karthik Nemmani, 14, became the 14th winner in a row of South Asian descent.

Koinonia, a noun, refers to a Christian fellowship or body of believers.

Pronounced “koy-nuh-NEE-uh,” the word based in theology is used only in plural and transliterated from the Greek κοινωνία, which also refers to the participation, unity and fellowship of the spiritual community in the Christian church.

The term is most often used in the New Testament of the Bible and is also the name of a religious summer camp in upstate New York. 

"Koinonia" may now be known to 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, as a rallying cry, after he was declared the champion of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

"He had something to prove, and it was that nothing could stop him," his coach, 16-year-old Grace Walters — who came in second place at the Association of Christian Schools International National Spelling Bee two years in a row — told CBS This Morning. 

During the finals, held at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, Md., Nemmani rose to the top after besting 515 young contestants — nearly doubling the previous year's number of 291 contestants.

After three days of spelling, 12-year-old Naysa Modi, of McKinney's neighboring Frisco, Texas, proved herself to be one of Nemmani's most formidable competitors Thursday afternoon, when they went head-to-head as the last two competitors standing in the championship round.

When Modi spelled "Bewusstseinslage," meaning a state of consciousness or feeling devoid of sensory components (according to Merriam-Webster dictionary), Modi had to spell two words in a row correctly to be crowned the winner: "Haeccetias," the status of being an individual, and his winning word, "koinonia."

Nemmani, a first-time competitor, called his win "a dream come true" just moments after his victory.

He also became the 14th consecutive champion or co-champion of Indian-American heritage. 

But, Nemmani nearly didn't have a chance to compete at the national bee, when he lost to Modi for the first time at the Collin County Spelling Bee in Texas earlier this year.

Instead, he reached nationals through the bee's new "RSVBee" program, an invite-only venue that allows competitors who haven't won a regional bee to apply for nationals. 

"I had my chance to win, but I botched that," Nemmani told CBS This Morning. "It was really easy, it was 'recension.' R-E-C-E-N-S-I-O-N."

As a winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Nemmani will go home with more than $40,000 in cash and prizes as well as a trophy declaring him the 2018 champion.