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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.

ABIGAIL Adams – The first First Lady to occupy the White House and an  ntellectually equal partner of her husband, President John Adams.

ADA LOVELACE – daughter of the poet Byron whose work in mathematics was (probably) a precursor of the modern computer.

AMELIA Earhart — the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

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African-American Heroine Names


As Black History Month segues into  Women’s History Month this weekend, we thought we’d take a look at the names of some African-American heroines.

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:

ALICE Dunbar-Nelson — Journalist, poet, author.

BARBARA Jordan — Texas Congresswoman who won fame during Nixon impeachment hearings.

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.

CLARA Stanton Jones — The American Library Association’s first African-American president.

CLEMENTINE Hunter — African-American painter, born in 1887.

CONSTANCE Baker Motley — First black female federal judge.

CORETTA Scott King — Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

DOROTHY West — Harlem Renaissance author.

ELLA Fitzgerald — Jazz singer.

FAYE Wattleton — Women’s rights activist.

GWENDOLYN Brooks — Poet and first African-American to win the Pulitzer.

HALLIE Quinn Brown — 19th century women’s rights activist.

HARRIET Tubman (born ARAMINTA Ross) — Escaped slave who became an abolitionist and Union spy; most famous for her work with the Underground Railroad.

IDA B. Wells-Barnett — Journalist and founding member of the NAACP.

JANE Bolin — Judge and community activist; first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School.

JOSEPHINE Baker — Politically-minded entertainer who was the Angelina Jolie of her day.

JUANITA Hall — First black actress to win a Tony Award.

KARA Walker — Artist best known for her silhouettes.

LENA Horne — Actress, singer, and civil rights activist.

LORRAINE Hansberry — Author of play “A Raisin in the Sun

MABEL Mercer — English singer.

MAHALIA Jackson — Gospel singer.

MARIAN Anderson — First black singer to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.

MARIAN Wright Edelman — Children’s Defense Fund founder.

NATALIE Hinderas — Composer and classical musician.

OCTAVIA Victoria Rogers Albert — Author and teacher.

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.

ROSETTA Tharpe — Jazz and blues singer and songwriter.

RUBY Dee — Actress.

SADIE Tanner Mossell Alexander — The first African-American Ph.D. in economics.

SARAH Vaughan — Jazz musician.

SHIRLEY Chisholm — First black woman elected to Congress.

SOJOURNER Truth — Abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

SUSIE King Taylor — Ex-slave who became Civil War nurse.

TONI Morrison — Novelist who won the Nobel Prize in literature.

VIOLETTE Neatley Anderson — In the 1920s, became the first black female attorney to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

WILMA Rudolph — Olympic runner.

ZENSI MIRIAM Makeba — African singer.

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Presidential First Names


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.

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