The name game of sports generations

Tom, Dick and Harry? How about Larry, Curly and Moe? Or Willie, Mickey and The Duke? Never mind all that…what happened to Mike, Dave and Bob?

A generation or so ago, Mike, Dave and Bob were the most popular names in pro sports — in that order. Well, at least in baseball and hockey they were, following my exhaustive hours of research.

That’s when hockey’s super stars were named Wayne and Bobby and Mike, and the best goalies were known as Pete and Billy and Roland. Last season, there was only one Wayne on the National Hockey League and a super star he was not. There was only one Bobby — he played 10 games and had one assist. You’ve almost certainly never heard of Bobby McMann. There are a few equally forgettable Mikes, but almost nobody goes by the short version any more…it’s Michael or Mikael/Mikhail. There are no Petes, a 9-game Billy and a 6-game Roland.

The more plentiful names in hockey now are Connor (McDavid, Bedard), Alex (Ovechkin, Pietrangelo) and Nick (Suzuki), and that doesn’t include the translations of European such as Nicklas and Alexei. The best player is a Connor (McDavid), the best defenseman’s an Erik with a “k” and the nicest player is an Anze (Kopitar). The pick of the goalies is a Linus, which used to be a name reserved for friends of Charlie Brown.

Baseball’s name changes — in that generation or so — are even more profound.

Mike, Dave and Bob were also the most popular first names, but not necessarily the stars. The power hitters were a Mike (Schmidt) and a Jim (Rice) and the most consistent were Wade (Boggs) and a Rod (Carew). The most successful pitchers were a LaMarr (Hoyt) and a Rich (Dotson), and the biggest name pitchers were a Nolan (Ryan) and a Steve (Carlton).

There was nobody called Shohei or Taijuan — not on the mound and probably not even in the stands — and other first names that are prominent today (Adonis, Wander and Elly) likely hadn’t been conceived. The one thread of generational consistency is a Mike, Schmidt then and Trout now, both premier sluggers of their eras.

There were 33 Mikes in the majors a generation or so ago, and now there are 16, not counting the Miguels, the Spanish version. There were 29 Daves then, and 9 now. There were 22 Bobs and now there is one (Miller, who sounds like a flashback and is a rarely-used pitcher for the Dodgers).

Famous first names in sports often lead to a lineage all its own. How many babies were named Mickey after Mantle, or Willie after Mays? How many little Bobbys bear the name because of Hull, or Orr? How many in the future will be Connors, after McDavid or Bedard?

Several years ago, one of my granddaughters was asked by a teacher to reveal the most unusual name in her family. Her Dad’s name is Lerrin, and the only other person we’ve ever heard of who shares his name is a former baseball player, Lerrin Lagrow.

The most unusual name of her family — and her answer to that question — was:


We should have known what the future would hold.