Political Baby Names: Nikita, Obama & Taft
Prominent politicians often have an influence on baby names — particularly when there’s an election coming up.
Below are some distinctively-named politicians that didn’t just affect the charts, but propelled their names onto the U.S. baby name data for the very first time. Some of these folks were in the public eye as far back as the early 1900s. Several weren’t even from the U.S., interestingly enough.
Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to hold the office, started campaigning in 2007 and won the election in 2008; as a result, both of his names ended up debuting in the U.S. baby name data: Barack in 2007, Obama in 2008. The name Barack is based on an Arabic word meaning “blessed,” and the surname Obama is based on a Luo word meaning “bent over” or “limping.”
On the diametrically other side of the spectrum we have the 90th Governor of South Carolina, Coleman Blease, a notorious racist. His term began in 1911, and the surname Blease debuted on the U.S. baby name charts the same year, with most of those baby Bleases born in South Carolina. The English surname Blease (rhymes with “please”) is thought to be a based on the name Blaise, ultimately derived from a Latin word meaning “lisping.”
Condoleezza “Condi” Rice began her term as the 66th U.S. Secretary of State in 2005. That same year, her unique first name appeared in the baby name data for the first and (so far) only time. The name Condoleezza is based on the Italian musical term con dolcezza, which means “with sweetness.”
Chicago politician Oscar DePriest was the first African-American to serve in Congress during the post-Reconstruction period. The name DePriest debuted on the baby name charts in 1929, the year Oscar DePriest began his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. His surname is thought to be derived from the French word pré, meaning “meadow.”
The 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was elected the first time in 1952. Though his surname might seem like an unlikely baby name, it popped up on the charts nonetheless that year. But it never came back, making it a true one-hit wonder. Eisenhower is a German occupational surname meaning “iron-hewer” or “iron-cutter.”
Tafari Makonnen (a.k.a. Ras Tafari – “Ras” being a title) took the regal name Haile Selassie upon becoming the last emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. He led the resistance against Mussolini’s invasion in 1935, and the same year the name Haile debuted in the U.S. baby name data. Haile (pronounced high-lee) means “power” in Ge’ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian church.
Indira Gandhi, the only child of India‘s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, herself became India’s third Prime Minister in 1966. Her name debuted impressively on the U.S. charts that year; it was bestowed upon nearly four dozen baby girls. Indira means “beauty” in Sanskrit.
Arizona Senator John McCain ran for president the first time in 2000. He lost the Republican Party nomination to George W. Bush, but that didn’t stop his surname from debuting on the baby name charts that year. McCain is an Irish surname that means “son of Ian,” Ian being a form of the Biblical name John, which means “Yahweh is gracious” in Hebrew.
Nikita Khrushchev, who served as Premier of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964, visited the U.S. in 1959 upon the invitation of President Eisenhower. The same year, the name Nikita — which had been appearing in the U.S. baby name data as a girl name since the ‘40s — debuted on the charts as a boy name. Nikita can be traced back to the Ancient Greek word niketes, meaning “victor.”
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, the second time he campaigned for the presidency. They ultimately lost the race, but the defeat didn’t prevent parents from naming their baby girls Palin that year and boosting the name onto the charts for the first time. The surname Palin has several different derivations, one of which is the Welsh patronymic ap Heilyn, or “son of Heilyn,” with Heilyn being an occupational byname meaning “steward” or “wine bearer.”
The 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, was elected in 1908. His surname didn’t debut on the baby name charts that year, but the year before, in 1907. This makes more sense when you consider the fact that parents during the early 20th century often waited weeks or months to name their babies. Taft is an English locational surname derived from the Old English word toft, meaning “homestead.”
Westmoreland “Morely” Davis, the 48th Governor of Virginia, was elected in 1917. His unwieldy first name appeared in the national baby name data for the first and only time in 1917. Vital records reveal that nearly all of these Westmorelands were born in Virginia specifically. Westmoreland is an English locational surname that originally referred to a region west of the moors.