Category: political names
What could be a greater gift to bestow on your daughter than a name with a heroic namesake, someone with an inspiring story to add a layer of pride to your little girl’s feelings about her name–and give her great material for a school report?
The following is a list of mostly American women of great courage, perseverence and accomplishment—many of whom broke barriers for women– that could fill this bill. And of course, this being nameberry, the name’s the thing, so apologies to all the equally distinguished Marys, Elizabeths, Sarahs and Anns who haven’t been included: the following ladies were picked (almost) as much for their interesting names as for their achievements.
Actually, compiling this list was not as easy as you might think (or as it should be). Google and book searches tended to turn up only the usual suspects. And then, late as usual, I bought my 2009 calendar from the bargain bin: A Journey Into 365 Days of Black History — Notable Women.
An array of admirable women are listed there, all of whom would provide wonderful role models (and lovely names) for any child. The best:
BESSIE Coleman — In 1922, became the world’s only licensed black pilot. She staged flying exhibitions to fund a school to train black aviationists.
CHARLOTTE Ray — In 1872, became the first black female lawyer.
CONSTANCE Baker Motley — First black female federal judge.
FAYE Wattleton — Women’s rights activist.
JOSEPHINE Baker — Politically-minded entertainer who was the Angelina Jolie of her day.
KARA Walker — Artist best known for her silhouettes.
LENA Horne — Actress, singer, and civil rights activist.
MABEL Mercer — English singer.
MAHALIA Jackson — Gospel singer.
MARIAN Wright Edelman — Children’s Defense Fund founder.
NATALIE Hinderas — Composer and classical musician.
PEARL Bailey — Actress and singer.
PHILLIS Wheatley — First published African-American female poet. The name Phillis or Phyllis, the Roman goddess of spring, was typical of the classical names given to early African-Americans.
PRUDENCE Crandall — White woman arrested for teaching black girls at her school in 1833.
ROSA Parks — Heroine of the famous bus boycott that launched the civil rights movement.
RUBY Dee — Actress.
SHIRLEY Chisholm — First black woman elected to Congress.
SOJOURNER Truth — Abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
TONI Morrison — Novelist who won the Nobel Prize in literature.
WILMA Rudolph — Olympic runner.
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.