What's in a name? A lot more than you think

MIKE ROYKO

June 23, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

There's a TV commercial in which young people say they want to "be like Mike." They are referring to Michael Jordan.

The commercial has inspired some fans to draw signs with messages to Mike. I even heard a TV sports announcer refer to him as Mike Jordan. And he's been referred to as Mike in newspaper headlines.

All of this should be stopped.

Jordan is a Michael, not a Mike. And there's a difference. Someone can be named Michael but that doesn't make him a Mike.

It has to do with personality, style, bearing, and one's approach to life and his fellow man.

Jordan is graceful, both on the basketball court and off. He is well-mannered, poised, charming.

Definitely a Michael.

In the same city, we have another sports celebrity. Ditka.

On his birth certificate, the name might read Michael. But Ditka is definitely not a Michael. He is a 100 percent Mike.

Why? Look at Ditka's eyes. You could put them in the skull of a pit bull and it would win Best of Show.

As a player, Ditka liked to run over people, stomp them, whap them across the chops. A fan once ran onto the field and barged into a Bears huddle. Ditka flicked a forearm and the young man sailed to the turf. Ditka was mean, belligerent, rude and crude.

Of course, that was when he was a young man. Now that Ditka has reached the age when we mature and mellow, he's still mean and belligerent, but not quite as rude and crude. Maybe only 50 percent.

If Jordan slammed other players to the floor, growled at reporters and got in fights outside of bars at 2 a.m., he would be a Mike.

Instead, he glides, soars, twirls, has one of the world's most boyish smiles, and is nice to everybody. So he is a Michael.

Not that a Mike has to be anti-social.

Another noted athletic Mike is Singletary, of the Bears. He quotes the Bible, talks like a public administrator, and by all accounts is a gentleman.

Normally, that would make him a Michael.

But what he is best known for is the crazed look in his eyes before he slams his body into the guy with the ball. In college, he set a national record for the number of helmets he broke while banging his head against the heads of others.

So this violent approach to his trade makes him a Mike. Besides, you just can't call a guy with a stubby, 20-inch neck Michael.

I'm another exception. Because I'm widely known to be a sensitive, caring, considerate, painfully polite person, I should be a Michael.

But my first editor thought he could save a few pennies in typesetting costs by shrinking my byline to Mike, so there it was.

And to those who doubt that I am sensitive, caring, considerate and polite, I say that you can take a flying (deleted) because I don't give a (deleted) what the (deleted) you think. OK, hog breath, huh, huh?

Another famous Michael was Corleone. Because he killed a couple of people himself, and ordered the deaths of many more, it might be argued that he was a Mike.

But he was suave, controlled, and conducted himself more like a corporate executive than a gangster, so he was a Michael.

However, his older brother, Sonny, as well as fat Clemenza, referred to him as Mikey.

That bothered me. A Mikey is in a special category.

I grew up with a Mikey and his mother was always telling him: "Mikey, wipe your lip, your nose is running."

And he would whine: "I don't wanna."

The last time I saw him, she was still saying it. "Mikey, wipe your lip, your nose is running."

As always, he said: "Ma, I don't wanna."

And she said: "You gotta wipe your lip, it's your wedding."

I don't mean to offend anyone, but a Mikey usually has a runny nose and pimples and is bumping into walls and forgetting to zip up when he comes out of the men's room.

That's something that parents should think about if they're naming a kid Michael. Don't call him Mikey. Even if he is a fine, broad-shouldered, keen-eyed, square-jawed little tyke, you call him Mikey often enough and one day you will look at him and see a gawking geek.

Is that what you want? Of course not. So call him Michael, if you must, although I think Joe is a better choice. For a couple of decades or more, Michael has been the most popular male name in the country. When I was a kid, hardly anyone was named Michael. The big name was Joe, a solid, all-purpose handle. But then it faded. More kids are named Kevin or Sean than Joe. I guess modern couples didn't want the kid going through life being asked: "Hiya, Joe, what'ya know?" Nobody asks Kevin or Sean or Michael what they know. Especially if the Michael is a true Mike, in which case he would say: "What I know is none of your (deleted) business."

Some scholars believe that people grow into their names. In other words, if Ditka had been called Michael, he would have turned out to be graceful, kind and gentle. And if Jordan had been tagged as Mike he would be grunting and scowling and growling.

An interesting theory but I don't buy it. If it were true, Ditka would have turned out to be a basketball player.

No way. He would have never played a game in which he had to wear short pants and dribble.

A Mike doesn't dribble. He spits.

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