I recently stumbled on a Web site that listed the most popular baby names since 1990. And in the boys' column, Jake—without fail—has been in the top 5 ... often in the #1 spot.
Which means, of course, that I wasn't actually a complete antisocial freak throughout my childhood. I was just ahead of my time.
The other boys in my class had unobtrusive, coolly familiar names like Mike or Scott or Brad or Dave or Eric. (Hi, guys!)
But I was Jake. I was Jake every single day of those all-important formative years when your self-esteem is linked directly to having a plain-old, common name—especially one that doesn't rhyme with everything. When it came time to single out kids for ridicule, everyone else was called either dork or geek. Not me. I got my very own custom-tailored (one might call it high couture) nom de moquerie: Jake the Rake that Baked a Cake and threw it in a Lake.
Yes, it was dumb. No, it wasn't really a specific insult. (Yes, I'm 36 now so I should probably stop dwelling on it.) But the nickname stuck. Probably because it had that rhyming iambic lilt—and enough heft to it that it continued to ring in my ears long after my peers found other kids to tease.
Dad wasn't much help either. He coined his own loving nickname for me: Jakerino Dumb-Dumb. (I know. Dad never was much of a poet.) And my ex—who's been my ex now for more than four years—still calls me Jakerino to this day.
Anyway, I persevered through the '70s, '80s and '90s, blazing a trail of social acceptance and paving the way for Jakes everywhere. I even helped foster in an era of great Jakes in literature—like the ones in Sixteen Candles and Melrose Place. Woof.
Despite all the aforementioned social traumas, the name Jake has served me well. Until it started spreading around the country faster than Rush Limbaugh at an all-you-can-eat buffet, it was unique enough that nobody ever had to ask me, "I'm sorry … what was your name again?"
And that rhyming part helped me learn to read. As soon as I mastered the art of hanging around in front of the refrigerator, my folks bought those brightly colored 2-inch magnetic letters and kept them at kid height on the refrigerator door for me. Once I learned how to spell Jake with them, other useful words, like little rhymed bretheren, were soon to follow. (See that stupid nickname above if you need examples.)
Armed with my powerful slient E vocabulary, I went on to beat my two cousins in the all-important typing event of the family's unofficial—though not unprestigious—Baby Races.
You might say my illustrious writing career was hunt-and-pecked to life with these immortal words on my mom's old Smith-Corona: Cake I like.
I still do. It's the official food of Generation Jake.