On this momentous day in American history, with a new president exceptional in every way, including being the first to have a precedent-shaking multi-ethnic name, it’s interesting to compare it with previous Presidential names. We know how influential some of the surnames have been–Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy have become adopted as first names–but what about the actual given names of these Commanders-in-Chief? Already we’ve seen a number of celebratory baby Baracks, with undoutedly many more to follow.
The majority of past presidents have had standard issue Anglo-Saxon classic names, including five Jameses, four Johns, four Williams, three Georges (looking back, there’s a certain historic symmetryt here beginning with Washington and ending with Bush) and one and a half Thomases (see below). Curiously enough, there are only two Old Testament names among them–Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison. Barack Obama is not the first president to inherit his father’s name–the others, some of whom were actually Juniors and some who weren’t–were John Adams, James Madison, James Buchanan, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Gerald Ford. Bill Clinton is William Jefferson Clinton III, and President Ford was a double junior: he was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. and later became Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.
Although Lincoln was known as Abe and Theodore Roosevelt as Teddy, the true Nickname Era started with Eisenhower, who ran on the slogan “I Like Ike.” He was followed by Jack Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Speaking of Jack, it’s possible that Kennedy added a bit of panache to that form of his name which still lingers today.
It’s interesting to note how many of these men actually reinvented their names. Eisenhower switched his first two names from David Dwight to Dwight David, as did Stephen Grover/Grover Stephen Cleveland and Thomas Woodrow/Woodrow Thomas Wilson. Grant was christened Hiram Ulysses Grant, but a clerical error when he was enrolling at West Point listed him as Ulysses Simpson (his mother’s maiden name) Grant, relieving him of the embarassing initials HUG. Two others whose mothers’ maiden names became their firsts were Millard (always wondered where that came from) Fillmore and Woodrow Wilson.
All in all, presidential first names have not had a huge impact on baby naming–unless you want to count the negative effect on the name Richard after Nixon‘s decline in reputation. Looks like here, as in so many other areas, Barack Obama will break new ground.