WSJ.com: It’s Not Your Imagination: There are Loads of Jalens in College Basketball
March 22, 2017
On the road to March Madness this season, Kent State University basketball teammates Jalen Avery and Jaylin Walker faced Jalen Jenkins of George Mason University, Wofford College’s Jaylen Allen and, twice, Jaylen Key of Northern Illinois University.
“I always had another Jalen on my team,” said Mr. Walker, a 19-year-old freshman, “ever since, like, elementary school.”
The name Jalen is on the rise in college sports, particularly basketball. That is because thousands of babies born during the 1990s heyday of Jalen Rose, the “Fab Five” University of Michigan star and midtier NBA player, are reaching adulthood.
This year there are 65 Jalens, Jaylens, Jaylans and other versions of the name on Division I basketball teams, up from 58 last year. Six years ago, there were just four.
By comparison, there were only 85 Mikes or Michaels, 14 Pauls and 82 players with variations of the name John.
Ten players who go by some version of the name Jalen entered the NCAA Tournament last week. It was a bad week for all 10, as all of their teams were knocked out during the first weekend. That included, in a major upset, Jalen Brunson’s Villanova University, which was many fans’ pick to repeat as national champions.
The name is nearly nine times as popular in men’s college basketball and five times as popular in college football as it is among the general population of college-age American males.
Surprisingly, names of much bigger basketball stars, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron and Shaquille, never approached the same level of popularity. (Six babies born in 2002 were named “Shakobe.”)
The first of the next-generation Jalens to enter the National Basketball Association, Jaylen Brown, is a rookie this year for the Boston Celtics. Nine now play in the National Football League.
“First off, I feel old right now,” Mr. Rose, 44 years old, said as he began a radio appearance last year with Mr. Brown on draft day, noting the name connection. He pointed out there were some key differences between himself and Mr. Brown, then 19, who listed poetry and chess as among his main hobbies, described interning at a venture-capital firm while a freshman at University of California, Berkeley, and said he doesn’t drink or smoke.
Mr. Rose pointed out that at age 19 he preferred to drink malt liquor and play videogames. “I ain’t going to put my demons on him,” he said.
The name Jalen was a rarity in the U.S. before Jeanne Rose gave birth to her fourth child at a Detroit-area hospital in 1973. She hadn’t decided what to call her son and didn’t have a close relationship with the baby’s father, James, whom Mr. Rose never met. Her brother, Leonard, had been nice enough to hold her purse in the waiting room, she recalled.
So she decided to combine the two men’s names. “I should have patented that name,” said Ms. Rose, 75.
Nowadays, when she hears parents calling out “Jalen! Jalen!” to their children in public, she stops to talk to them. “I say: ‘You better represent that name,’ ” she said. Her older children are William, Kevin and Tamara.
Among the tendency of parents to name their children after sports stars and other celebrities, the Jalen situation stands out. While Mr. Rose enjoyed a long basketball career and is now a charismatic analyst, with an ESPN talk show and podcast, he was never a Hall of Famer, let alone an All-Star.
One of his claims to fame is being the unlucky defender guarding against Kobe Bryant’s 81-point barrage in 2006. He often jokes that the only way he will end up on a statue is if the Lakers erect a shrine to Kobe that portrays this event.
The name peaked in 2000, the year Mr. Rose lost in the NBA Finals with the Indiana Pacers and won the league’s Most Improved Player award. That year, around 7,400 boys were born in the U.S. with some version of the name, or nearly 0.4% of all male births. (The most popular name that year was Jacob.)
“You ever seen one of those ideas, like putting wheels on a suitcase? Jalen is a name that’s like ‘How come no one did this before?’ ” said David Jacoby, Mr. Rose’s on-air hosting partner. “It’s just such a natural, solid, two-syllable multi-gender name.”
Parents who named their children Jalen said they appreciated Mr. Rose’s basketball play and style. But mostly, they just liked the name. “I loved the whole rebelliousness that they had going on,” said Angela Cayode, mother of University of Maryland guard Jaylen Brantley, referring to Mr. Rose’s Michigan team. She adds that she was a huge college basketball fan in the 1990s. “And he had the best name out of all of them.” She said she added a “y” to the name to “give it my own flair.”
The government has recorded at least 44 spelling variations for a name that sounds like “Jalen,” and nowadays “Jaylen” is by far the most popular.
Mr. Walker of Kent State said his older brothers chose the name because they longed for him to grow up to be a sports star at Michigan. They talked him into watching old clips of Mr. Rose, he said.
At first, Mr. Walker blew them off because Mr. Rose’s heyday was before his time. Then he decided to watch him. “I took his mentality and his moves a little bit, kind of added it to my game,” he said.
On a recent podcast, Mr. Jacoby presented “Jalen power rankings.” Mr. Rose came in No. 2, behind Jalen Hurts, the starting quarterback for the University of Alabama football team.
“I thought I was No. 1!” Mr. Rose exclaimed.
“When you’re the quarterback of a team in the college championship game, you’re going to be No. 1,” Mr. Jacoby responded.
Mr. Rose said in a later interview he’s proud his name is his legacy, even if he risks getting eclipsed. “It’s the most important thing that has happened in my life,” Mr. Rose said. “I give my mom all the credit because I had absolutely zero to do with it.”
Ms. Cayode, the mother of Maryland’s Jaylen Brantley, said people in her hometown of Springfield, Mass., have already told her they are naming their children Jalen after her son—not Jalen Rose.
Appeared in the Mar. 23, 2017, print edition as ‘Aspire to Play College Basketball? It Sure Helps to Be a ‘Jalen’.’