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'90s FAMILY : Jack Is Once Again an Average Joe of a Name

November 01, 1995|VIRGINIA WEBBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When our son was born four years ago, we decided to call him Jack, after my father. It was an unusual choice for a newborn. Jack was a name from a bygone era, like Hank or Morty. That was OK. The name had an in-house resonance for us, and we did not mind that it was from another time. We assumed that our son would probably go from kindergarten through college as the one and only Jack in his class.

Guess again. We discovered that Jack is fast becoming for a generation born in the '90s what Cody was to baby boys of the '80s. It seems that every third boy born in America recently has been named Jack, including sons of Christie Brinkley, Val Kilmer, Susan Sarandon, Meg Ryan, Ellen Barkin, Tracey Ullman and children's book author William Joyce. It's an epidemic.

I never saw it coming, this plague of Jacks. There is nothing clever about the name. It is just a modest, sturdy name. The bearer of this humble moniker has to flesh it out himself. Jack is a name for your average Joe, so to speak. It is a blank slate of a name, not calculated to win a teacher's favor, but to yell to get a kid in for dinner.

It is not a noble name. There have never been any King Jacks as far as I know. Jack Kennedy notwithstanding, it is a common man's common name. The dictionary definition of a jack is a "man; a chap; a laborer." In a sea of Christophers and Jonathans, it is an unabashedly working-class name. In a culture of androgynous Courtneys and Whitneys, it is an unquestionably male name.

The name also carries the association of the high-profile Jacks who have gone before, most of whom have been mavericks and troublemakers who lived it a little on the wild side. Jack Nicholson. Jack Kerouac. Jack London. Jack and the beanstalk.

But the name is not a mandate for wildness. My father, known in some circles as "Big Jack," started out his adult life in true Jack form, as a 6-foot-4 lumberjack. He is now, after many adventures, a calm 6-foot-4 family therapist.

Growing up in Southern California after World War II, my father's friends had names like Jimmy, Alfred, Butch and Ronnie. Not a Jack among them. He was the one and only Jack all his life. Of course, those days are over now that the name has caught on like some sort of Jason.

A word of caution for parents-to-be of boys who will all come of age in the next century: This name is tapped out, used up for now. Go back to the drawing board, the baby name book, the family tree. Jack is in , which means of course it's out .

I know what I'm talking about. I've been through this before, this inexplicable bumper-cropping of a previously unfashionable name. I am the mother of 8-year-old Katie, who will go through life as Katie W. to distinguish herself from the wave of Katies born in the last decade. We, the parents who dusted off this lovely old name for our daughter, could not have known that it would eventually become as ubiquitous as the Jennifers and Kimberleys of previous generations. Or the Jack of a generation aborning.

Give Jack a rest, a generation or two to cool off. Believe me, it will come back around. Despite itself, the name has become a classic.

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