Sunday, May 20, 2018

Information About The Name "Michael" And Comments About Why The Given Name "Michael" Isn't As Popular As It Used To Be

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a five part pancocojams series about the name "Michael".

Part I of this series presents etymological information about the name "Michael" as well as information about that name's declining popularity.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II showcases the African American Spiritual/work song "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" (also given as "Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore").

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases C.O.D.'s 1965 R&B song "Michael The Lover" and The Mad Lads' 1966 cover of that song.

Click for Part IV of this series. Part IV showcases Dionne Warwick's 1966 R&B song "Message To Michael", and Michael Jackson's 1975 R&B song "Dear Michael".

Click for Part V of this pancocojams series. Part V showcases the 1991 song "Be Like Mike" and the original Gatorade "Be like Mike" commercial. That song and commercial refers to professional basketball player Michael Jordan.

It's my position that these songs and that commercial reinforced the popularity of the name "Michael."

The content of this post is presented for etymological and cultural information.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Michael... is a masculine given name that comes from Hebrew: מִיכָאֵל / מיכאל‎ (Mīkhāʼēl, pronounced [miχaˈʔel]), derived from the question מי כאל mī kāʼēl, meaning "Who is like God?".[1]

Patronymic surnames that come from Michael include Carmichael, DiMichele, MacMichael, McMichael, Michaels, Micallef, Michaelson, Michalka, Michels, Mihály, Mikeladze, Mikhaylov, Mikkelsen, Mitchell and Mykhaylenko.

The name first appears in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Numbers, 13:13 where Sethur the son of Michael is one of 12 spies sent into the Land of Canaan.

Michael features in the Book of Daniel 12:1, as the archangel..., and in the Islamic Quran as Mikaeel. He is considered a saint (a creature noted for exceptional holiness) by the Roman Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the Roman Catholic Church, 29 September is the feast day of the three archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. For the Orthodox Church, 8 November is the feast day commemorating the archangels Michael and Gabriel, as well as the whole host of angels, while the Monday of each liturgical week likewise corresponds to the "Bodiless Powers." In the Coptic Orthodox Church, his main feast days are 12 Hathor and 12 Paoni, with lesser feast days on the 12th day of each month of the Coptic calendar.

Michael (and its variants) is one of the most common given names for men in the world. In the United States, Michael was the most popular name of the 20th century, ranking No. 1 from 1954 to 1998 (with the exception of 1960, when it was second to David). It was among the top three most popular names for each year since 1953, only falling out of the top five in 2011 for the first time since 1949.[2]

In 2014, Michael was the 20th most popular name in Northern Ireland,[3] 27th in Canada[4] and 42nd in Australia.[5] In England and Wales, Michael ranked 53rd in 2011 and 2012.[6] Mícheál ranked as the eighth most popular name for boys in Ireland in 2013.[7]

Variants of Michael rank among the most popular masculine names in multiple countries. It was the third most popular in Finland from 2010-March 2015 (as Mikael),[8] seventh in Russia in 2009 (as Mikhail),[9] 14th in Spain in 2012 (as Miguel),[10] and 15th in Denmark (as Mikkel)


Other names
Nickname(s) Mic, Micha, Mick, Mickey, Micki, Mickie, Mike, Mikey, Miki, Mikki, Miko, Mitch, Mitt
Related names Machiel, Michaela, Michelangelo, Michal, Michał, Mícheál, Michel, Michele, Michelle, Michiel, Miguel, Mihael, Mihai, Mihailo, Mihajlo, Mihalis, Mihály, Mihkel, Mihovil, Miika, Mikael, Mikel, Mikhail or Mihail (Михаил), Mikkel, Mikko, Misha, Mitchell
I added italics to highlight this sentence.

The “related names” section doesn’t include the name "Mykell". "Mykell" is a relatively contemporary (since about 40 years or less [?]) form of the name "Michael". Based on Google search, It appears that the name "Mykell" is most often given to African American males.

Derived from the Hebrew mīkhā’ē‘l (Who is like God?). The name is borne in the Bible by one of the seven archangels. He is the one closest to God and is responsible for carrying out God's judgments. Var: Michaell, Michail"...

Mykell Wilson is one example of an African American male with the name "Mykell":
"Mykell Wilson nicknamed Mighty Mykell, is a renowned dancer and entertainer having worked with Prince, Justin Bieber, Pharrell Williams, Britney Spears and many more.”...

This article also doesn't note that some females are also given the name "Michael". Read comments #14-#16 given after Excerpt #4. Also, in the late 1950s (Atlantic City, New Jersey), I knew a teenage/young adult African American female whose given name was "Michael" (pronounced the same as the male name).

Excerpt #1:
From [United States only]
"For each year, we show the rank for Michael and a bar representing the popularity of that name. The longer the bar, the more popular the name. The more popular the name in a given year, the numerically lower the rank, with rank 1 being the most popular.
Year Rank Popularity of male name Michael
2017 - 12
2016 - 8
2015 - 9
2014 - 7
2013 - 7
2012 - 7
2011 - 6
2010 - 3
2009 - 3
2008 - 2
2007 - 2
2006 - 2
2005 - 2
2004 - 2
2003 - 2
2002 - 2
2001 - 2
2000 - 2"
Click for a list of the Top 10 Baby Names of 2017
Mote that these given names aren't broken down by race/ethnicity.
According to that source, the top five male names in the United States (for babies born in the United States* in 2017) were "Liam", "Noah", "William", "James", and "Logan".

The top five female names for babies born in the United States* in 2017 were "Emma", "Olivia", "Ava", "Isabella", and "Sophia".

*Babies born in the United States must be issued a Social Security number within the year of their birth.

Click "Names Given To New York City Newborns By Race In 2014 (with comments)" for examples of the differences in name rankings based on race/ethnicity.

In 2014 the given name "Michael" ranked #3 among White males born in New York City. However, "Michael" didn't rank in the top ten for male names among Black males, Hispanic males, or Asian/Pacific Islander males who were born in 2014 in New York City.

Excerpt #2:

One of the most popular names of your childhood is going extinct.

CAITLIN BISHOP, May 17, 2017
“There were usually three of them. Michael J, Michael K and Michael W.

The poor boys all wanted to be the only Michael in class but anyone who went to school in the 90s will tell you that just wasn’t possible.

The name was as common as Weetbix for breakfast. But now, it’s going out of fashion.

Numbers out of the US show that last year only 14,000 baby boys were named ‘Michael’. This is the lowest amount of Michaels to enter the world in the duration of a year since 1940.

A similar trend can be seen here in Australia.

Between the 1950s and the 1990s Michael was in the top 10 – usually the top five, even the top three – of names given to baby boys in Australia. In 2000, this ranking dropped to 17 and, in 2016, well… ‘Michael’ didn’t even make the top 50.

See, new parents are trying to be cool.

New parents don’t want their kid to be one-of-three in a primary school class. They don’t want to yell Michael W when calling their son from the school yard (that’s three extra syllables and the wind is always too strong to carry it). So parents are opting for something more modern and edgy and unusual than the sturdy, trusted, established, biblical ‘Michael’.”...
The italics in this excerpt was included in the original article.

Excerpt #3:
From "Michael At Risk Of Dying Out As A Baby Name"

The name at its lowest level of popularity since WWII

NARJAS ZATAT, Monday 15 May 2017
"Michael is facing extinction as a name in the US, with newly released figures showing it was given to that less than 14,000 baby boys last year - the lowest on record since 1940.

During the 20th Century it topped the list of boys baby names for 43 out of 44 years, the longest reign for males in the 20th century.

But it is thought that parents seeking individual names for their children have led to its decline.

Michael was the ninth most popular male name in the 1940s, given to 336,556 children. The first was James, with 795,663 for boys, and Mary with 640,012 for girls.


Some have attributed the name's popularity to famous figures, including the late musician and icon Michael Jackson, film star Michael J Fox and legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.

However, when Michael Shackleford, now 51, worked in America's Social Security Administration, he became annoyed by the popularity of his name.

So when his wife became pregnant in 1996, he used a one per cent sample of Social Security card applications to find out which names were the most popular, so he could avoid them.

The project became the federal rankings used today to tally the 1,000 most popular names in the US.

Mr Shackleford told The Wall Street Journal: “It was a personal goal of mine to kill (the name Michael). By itself it’s a fine name, but if any name becomes too popular, it just ruins it.”

Those wishing to find out which names are the most common can now use the Social Security Administration’s annual baby names list. Popular Baby Names By Decade

Excerpt #4
"Parents Don’t Want to Name Their Kids Mike Anymore"

The number of baby boys named Michael fell last year to the lowest level since 1940; Dukakis, Ditka are distressed

By Janet Adamy, May 12, 2017 1:35 p.m. ET
"American parents don’t want their sons to be like Mike anymore.

“Michael had been one of the most popular male monikers in American history, having held the No. 1 spot on the federal list of top baby names for 43 out of 44 years, the longest boys reign of the 20th century.

New federal figures released Friday show Michael losing fashion, with fewer than 14,000 U.S. baby boys getting the name last year, the lowest level on record since 1940. It clocked in at No. 8 on the Social Security Administration’s annual top baby names roster, a list where Noah took the No. 1 boys’ spot, and Emma topped the girls’ rankings.

Behind Michael’s demise is a generation of American parents who prize individuality and don’t want their children sharing names with classmates like they did. Phonetic trends have made hard consonants and names ending in “N” soar up the baby-name list.


The slide marks a victory for Michael Shackleford, 51, who worked as a Social Security Administration actuary in the 1990s and was irritated by his name’s ubiquity. “If the teacher called on Michael, you always had to say which one,” he says.

When his wife became pregnant with their first child in 1996, Mr. Shackleford used a 1% sample of Social Security card applications to determine which baby names were the most common—and avoid them. His pet project morphed into today’s federal rankings, which tally the 1,000 most-popular names U.S. parents choose each year.

“It was a personal goal of mine to kill it,” Mr. Shackleford says of Michael. “By itself it’s a fine name, but if any name becomes too popular, it just ruins it.”

Michael rose to prominence after World War II, fueled by its revered status as an archangel. Its transcendent demographic appeal—chosen by whites and blacks, the wealthy and the working class—helped make it the country’s most-selected male baby name from 1954 to 1998 (save for a brief dethroning by David in 1960).

“It was an available ‘M’ name that sounded nicely American,” says Michael Chabon, the 53-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning author. In keeping with Jewish tradition, he got the name in part to pay homage to his maternal grandfather, Morris.

Few names rival Michael’s historic dominance. The Generation X juggernaut Jennifer held No. 1 from 1970 to 1984, and sits at No. 273 in the most recent rankings. John topped the boys’ list from 1880, the first year of government records, to 1923, but ranks No. 28 on the new list. Mary held No. 1 for 75 of 81 years through 1961, but has since plunged, coming in at No. 127 in 2016.

The rankings Mr. Shackleford spawned have helped the top names turn over faster. They account for a smaller share of the children born in a given year than they did a generation ago.

In 1954, the year Michael first clinched the top spot, 4.3% of American baby boys got the name. By its last year atop the list, in 1998, just 1.8% of males born that year were named Michael.

In the latest rankings, it accounts for a mere 0.7% of boys born last year. Because the top names have lost their grip on the market, it edged up to No. 8 from No. 9 in 2015 despite about 400 fewer male babies being named Michael this past year.

“Michael was No. 1 for so long that it is both a dad name and a grandpa name, and historically you need to go back four generations for a name to sound cool again,” says Pamela Redmond, co-creator of Nameberry, a baby-naming website.

Part of Michael’s longevity comes from the string of celebrities who kept the name fresh through the late 20th century, when Michael Jackson dominated pop music charts and Michael Jordan soared on the basketball court. The snappy nickname Mike held its own appeal for many. Mr. Jordan’s Gatorade ad campaign urged consumers to “Be Like Mike.”

“He just could not say no to the name Michael,” says Michael Tyson, the 26-year-old daughter of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. “I do think I might even name my daughter Michael.”


Despite Michael’s popularity, the U.S. has never had a president named Michael. “Should I have researched that first before announcing my candidacy?” asked Mr. Dukakis. “No wonder I lost.”

There hadn’t even been a vice president with the name until this year, when Michael Richard Pence —best known as Mike—took office.

Asked whether Mr. Pence liked having the commonplace moniker, the vice president’s press secretary pointed toward a clue: Mr. Pence’s son is also named Michael.

Mr. Shackleford, who now runs a gambling consulting business in Las Vegas, appears to have helped knock Michael off its perch. It lost its No. 1 spot the year after the federal government first published the name data. But Mr. Shackleford’s rankings didn’t prevent him from falling into a trendy naming trap.

When Mr. Shackleford’s second child was born in 2002, he and his wife selected Aidan, the name of a likable character on the hit show “Sex and the City.” It seemed like a safe bet for novelty, occupying No. 114 on the federal list in 2000.

“I like John Corbett as an actor—I loved the show ‘Northern Exposure’— so that may have had something to do with it,” Mr. Shackleford says of the man who played Sarah Jessica Parker’s boyfriend Aidan on the HBO series.

Other parents flocked to the name, and its more common spelling, Aiden, hit peak popularity at No. 9 on the list in 2011. Last year it ranked No. 16. Now 15, Aidan Shackleford says he shared the name with a boy in the bell choir and others in grades below him.

“The very thing that I was trying to help people avoid doing happened to me,” the elder Mr. Shackleford says."

Appeared in the May 13, 2017, print edition as 'New Parents Don’t Like Mike.'
The song "Be Like Mike" which is alluded to in the beginning of this article is included in Part IV of this series.

Selected comments from this article:

Note: A considerable number of commenters criticized or derided contemporary African American “made up names” and/or other "made up name". I purposely didn’t include most of these comments. I also purposely didn’t include any political comments in this compilation.

Numbers are assigned to these comments for referencing purposes only. All these comments are from 2017.

1. Michael Garrett
"This is a fun set of data. It reveals a lot about how diverse and individualistic our country has become over the years. For instance, in 1900, the top ten boys names covered nearly a third of all boys. Last year, the top ten boys names represented less than eight percent of that population.And to nitpick: If you add Sofia, Sophia and Sophie together, they outnumber Emma. Spelling variations complicate matters, as I was telling Caitlin just the other day."

2. Clifford Crouch
"Once people named their children to honor elder relatives, or after revered figures in the Bible. Now they pick names of popular characters from trendy TV shows instead, and then deliberately misspell them slightly so that they'll be "unique." Sigh."

3, Enid Hinkes
"In seventy years, when the name Noah is associated with grandfathers, Michael will be back in style."

4. Mike polise
"tradition isn't a bad reason for a name. it links us to our relatives, makes families closer, even more cohesive. my son michael was really named after michael jordan. michael, my son, was born a few days after jordan dropped 65 on the knicks."

5. John-Paul Sienicki

6. mike polise
"John-Paul Sienicki Knicks or bulls fan?"

7. Michael Pereira
"As a first grader in Catholic school (1960's - IHM - full habit), there was no Raphael nor Gabriel in my class. Whenever Sister Mary John Marks brought up Michael the Archangel, I can tell you every child in that class looked at me as though I was some sort of Divine messenger. Been kind of partial to the name since. Aiden? A TV show? Pssssssh."

8. Gary Jarmin
"Behind Michael’s demise is a generation of American parents who prize individuality..."Huh...really? Actually, I find millennials to be the most conformist group I have ever encountered. Due to social media peer pressure, them having an "independent" view is about as rare as Sasquatch sightings."

9. Adam Wechtel
"Gary Jarmin They prize individuality, but that doesn't mean they actually embrace it. It's really more the ages old anti-establishment thing, of course when tens of millions of them do it, it becomes the establishment anyway."

10. Clifford Crouch,
"Michael was "the country’s most-selected male baby name from 1954 to 1998 (save for a brief dethroning by David in 1960)."I can't help but wonder if the surge in the popularity of "David" at that time might, just might, be a reflection on Americans' great esteem for Dwight David Eisenhower, one of our last presidents to be widely popular across the political spectrum. I personally know one David and one Dwight, both born around that time."

11. Richard Coolidge
"New parents avoid Michael because the name is too common and ordinary. Yet a large portion of them are picking Noah and Liam so their kid will have a unique name.I guess math is really, really hard!/sarcasm off, as if that's necessary!"

"Our post-Christian society has no interest in naming their children after saints."

13. Jeffrey Cox
"M.A. FLANAGAN We also have no interest in lighting our homes with candles. It's called progress."

14. James Savage
"We had a neighbor who liked it so much, they named their daughter Michael."

15. steve petarra
"James Savage King Davids wife was Michael, as I recall. I have an adult friend named that."

16. Daniel Pressler
"Steve petarra James Savage And, Michael Learned played the mom on The Waltons."

17. Michael Ard
"I welcome the change. Too many young men simply can't live up to the awesomeness of a name like Michael, and should be named Kyle or Todd instead."

18. michael perkins
"Michael Ard or Aiden"

19. Michael Williamson
"Thank God! There are enough Michaels in the world."

20. Michael Brown
"Michael Williamson Yes. And it's even worse if you name your kid Michael and you have a common last name."

21. Ramesh Gandham
"This comments section is biggest party of Michael/Mikes I have seen on WSJ."

This includes Part I of this four part series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. The idea for this pancocojams post occurred to me as I read political articles in the USA that references Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti, and Michael Flynn.

    I was also motivated to research this subject when I noticed that "Michael" is the given name of the Bishop of the Episcopal church (Bishop Michael Curry) who gave a sermon during the wedding for the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Click for a pancocojams post that includes a video and a full transcript of that sermon.