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Expressway: Don't overlook this great name


Saul Photo Credit: Newsday Illustration

The Social Security Administration's survey of the most popular baby names for 2011 was announced on Monday and incredibly, amazingly, Saul didn't make No. 1 on the boys list. Saul didn't make the Top 10, either, and was nowhere in the Top 300. (Actually, it was 396.)

Things have to change. I think it's time for a new leader. It's time for Saul!

And, I'm confident it will happen. Of the Top 10 most popular names for boys, six -- Jacob (No. 1 for the 13th straight year), Ethan, Noah, Daniel, Michael and Alexander -- are found in Bible. Saul, too, is in that august book. Admittedly obnoxious, Saul was a brave king in the Book of Samuel. In the New Testament, Saul of Tarsus had a vision and stopped persecuting Christians.

Other Sauls have made their mark. Saul Katz is a co-owner of the Mets. Saul Bellow was a great novelist. There were lots of TV comedy writers named Saul (decades ago, Saul Ilson wrote for the "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and Saul Turteltaub provided laughs for "Sanford and Son" and "The Carol Burnett Show").

Saul Novigan pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s. And in the movie "Ocean's Eleven," when George Clooney was assembling his team, he knew he needed one more talented person, an elderly con man played by Carl Reiner. "We need Saul!" he said triumphantly. "We need Saul!"

Checking, I happily discovered many Sauls -- and, better yet, 13 Saul Schachters -- in the United States. Of 12 with ages provided, all of them -- except me -- were listed as 86 or older (another reason to name your child, Saul: Many of us live a long time).

My grandfather was my family's original Saul Schachter, and I'm proud to carry on his name. But as much as I like it, I'll grudgingly concede it's not easy being a Saul.

For one thing, no one believes it's your name. "What was that?" people say. "Did you say your name was Paul?"

And if they don't say Paul, they say something they prefer: "Nice meeting you, Sal," or, "It's a pleasure, Sol."

Even my beloved maternal grandmother had problems with the name. As luck would have it, I have a cousin Paul in Commack, and when Grandma was in her 70s, she'd call me Paul, and him Saul. Paul and I were bemused by this. My grandmother died in 1970 and at family reunions, in her honor, I address my cousin as Saul and he calls me Paul.


At any rate, although Saul's rank has slipped recently, in the long view, its popularity is rising. In the past century, according to the Social Security website, Saul ranked as low as 700th in 1944 (it was World War II and I'm embarrassed to say even Adolph and Benito ranked slightly higher). But 57 years later in 2001, Saul stood at a robust 278.

Seeing Saul atop the list of most popular boys names might take awhile. But there is reason for hope. Ava was No. 953 on the girls list in 1990, but is now No. 5! If Ava could jump 948 places in 22 years, Saul, too, can make a similar ascent.

I can be patient. After all, we Sauls live a long time!

Reader Saul Schachter lives in Sea Cliff.