A message for Michael in the baby name game

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ah, Michael, Michael, Michael ...

We hardly knew ye ... yet it has taken more than 50 years to see you put in your place. You've finally been flushed out of the list of the top-five most popular boys' names.

Justice has at long last prevailed. For about 50 or so years ago, "The Michael Story" became legendary around our house as I grew up in the Baby Boomer era.

As my relatives like to tell it, I was five. My mother was about to give birth. And somehow, some way, I was so absolutely, positively certain that my mother was going to give me a baby brother, that I had already begun calling him "Michael" and had some sort of cowboy doll ready to present to him.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the circumcision. My sister Jennifer was born.

Family history indicates that turn of events so incensed me (remember, my demeanor had yet to be tempered by years and years of being a Chicago Cub fan), that I grabbed that doll, ran to the bathroom and flushed him down the toilet.

A full-body swirly. Say hello to the Tidy Bowl man, my little friend. Consider it John over Michael.

Through the intervening years, I can't say I've had much sympathy for Michaels at large. I have never been buddy-buddy with a single one Michael. Never could stand Michael Bolton. Not much of a Michael Caine guy. Michael Jackson? Not a big fan.

Michael Jordan, sure, he's way, way above the fray. And I like Mike. Most Mikes. There's a Mike in our midst, and we've been friends with him for as long as we've been in Greencastle.

I know it sounds spiteful but I relish the notion that the name Michael has at least fallen to sixth place in the name rankings, its lowest spot since 1948 -- several years before our infamous flushing incident.

Amazingly, since first cracking the top 10 in 1944, Michael has never left it. It was No. 1 almost every year from 1954 to 1998, getting knocked off the top only by David in 1960.

But according to 2011 statistics, the top boys' name is Jacob for the 13th straight year, followed by Mason, William, Jayden and Noah.

Sophia emerged as the top girls' name for the first time in 2011, continuing a rapid ascent after breaking into the top 100 only in 1997.

Isabella, the previous girls' leader, slipped to second this past year with Emma, Olivia and Ava rounding out the top five.

Anyone else notice how they all end in an A? What's up with that? Too much "Wheel of Fortune," where everybody wants to buy a vowel?

Meanwhile, Emily seems to be the enduring female equivalent of Michael, and is also No. 6 among 2011 girls' names.

Incredibly, lists of U.S. baby names have been compiled by the Social Security Administration since 1880. Back then, of course, the top names were the traditional John and Mary.

I remember my parents -- Paul and Barbara -- telling my sister and me that they had thoughtfully given us rather unusual first names, shunning the typical Billy, Bobby, Susan and Linda of the 1950s.

Being named Eric has seemed to work out OK, rarely was there another Eric in my classes through grade school and high school.

And while Jennifer initially may have been a bit different for my sister's era, by the time my own daughter was in school, there were about a dozen Jennifers in her Greencastle classes.

But back to Michael for the message. Apparently, the meaning of the name Michael is "he who resembles God."

Emperors, saints and kings have also borne the name ... just not in my house, Michael.