Recognizing the burden and glory of being a 'Mike'

March 04, 1992|By Michael "Mike" Vitez | Michael "Mike" Vitez,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

"Michael: One who is like God." -- Oxford English Dictionary

This story is for Mikes only.

We are the ultimate trend.

We carry the most popular boy's name in America.

But there is deep trouble in Mikeville: Our very popularity is our curse. Many of us feel ordinary, lost in a sea of Mikes. We have no identity. A million Mikes are worth but one Elvis.

To borrow from some George down in Washington, this cannot stand. And I am doing my part to change it.

The other day, I became an official member of Mikes of America -- which claims to be the largest name-based organization in the world, a support group with more than 20,000 member Mikes.

I received a T-shirt and a framed certificate in the mail (alas, with glass broken). The package came from Mike D. Nelson, president and founder of Mikes of America, our visionary.

"We've got something here that we share, that the non-Mike population just doesn't understand," says Mr. Nelson, 43, who lives in Minneapolis and works for a small company that sells manufactured housing. "I have managed to strike a chord among Mikes everywhere. Mikes have felt lost. But that's OK. It's better than OK.

"Feel proud. This is the all-American name. And thank God that your parents didn't name you Fred!"

Mike Nelson is serious -- well, as serious as a Mike can be. He first felt the facelessness of Mikehood in Catholic elementary school. "I grew up with six or seven Mikes in my grade-school class," he recalls. "There was a Mike everywhere you looked."

Even today, his two best friends are named Mike, "and we call ourselves Three Blind Mikes."

Mikes are everywhere. For the last quarter-century, Michael has been the top name for newborn boys in New York City, pummeling second-ranked Christopher in 1990 by 2,196 to 1,671; statewide, Mike beat Chris 6,033 to 4,171. (Fifty-five New Yorkers did name their babies Elvis.) In Pennsylvania, too, Michael led: 3,462 were born in 1990, followed by a paltry 2,648 Matthews. Actually, to those Pennsylvania Michaels you can add: 63 Micheals (possibly just bad typing by state

officials), 50 Miguels, two Mychaels, two Mikels and four just plain Mikes -- which is what we all end up being anyway.

Just what "is" it that makes Mike so popular?

"I don't know, to be honest with you," Mr. Nelson says. "It's a good, solid American name, a friendly and familiar name. It's not ethnic, it's not trendy. The Jasons come and go, but Mikes are here to stay."

For the last 12 years, Mike Nelson's mission has been to promote the name worldwide. To make every Mike feel good. "I like to think there aren't any dirtballs out there named Mike," he says.

But at the mention of Mike Tyson, he seems saddened. Being a Mike is a sacred trust; so many youngsters count on us. Every January the Mikes of America recognize a Mike of the Year. Basketball star Michael Jordan won it for 1991. "In America we hold our heroes in high regard," says Mr. Nelson. "We idolize them. We name our children after them -- and that means more Mikes to carry on."

Mike Nelson has started a line of Mikewear -- hats, shirts, sweats, all bearing the Mikes of America trademark. He writes a newsletter for members, called Open Mike, and every week receives dozens of letters in which Mikes pour out their thanks and praise.

A few samples:

* "For years, I wanted to change my first name because every time someone yelled 'Mike,' just about every guy around me would turn his head. Well, your club has made me realize how special the name Mike really is. Your organization is the biggest down here in Texas!" -- Mike Mouri, Galveston, Texas.

* "My life has changed. Ever since becoming a member of Mikes of America, I notice subtle changes in every aspect of my previously common existence. I feel like a much stronger Mike now." -- Mike Piacenza, address unknown.

"Generally speaking, Mikes of America is a good idea." -- Rev. Mike T. Donohue, Willimantic, Conn.

* "I believe that with the hard work and efforts of all Mikes from far and wide, we can make the 1990s the Mike Decade." -- Mike Kaine, Trenton, Ontario.

Until reporting this story, I had never realized my own trauma over being a Mike. Preceded by two brothers, I was supposed to be a Wendy. And as a kid, they used to torment me by singing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." I wanted to scratch their eyes out.

As an adult, I still struggle for recognition.

Yet I have always shared a deep kinship with fellow Mikes. In college, six of us shared an apartment and three of us were Mikes. Since high school, my best friend has been a Mike. I sit across from a Mike at work. I live next door to a Mike. One of my first loves was a Michelle -- but she married a Dennis and now has five kids. I'm sure one of them is named Mike.

Mike Nelson has helped me realize not only the burden of being a Mike, but also the glory. He says he regularly gets letters from people who "wish" they could be Mikes. In fact, some members changed their names just so they could join.

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