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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8 Responses to “Presidential First Names”

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Melissa Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 12:46 pm

And don’t forget the popularity of Truman, which had a brief but noticeable spike in the rankings after his election. For girls, I think it’s interesting that the name Reagan made a significant jump the year that president died.

Verisimilitude Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Abraham Lincoln actually hated being called Abe. It’s true!

jenmb Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Linda, I recently discovered your site and I love your blog! I would love to see an entry with your opinion on exactly what group of people decides when a name becomes “in fashion” again. Is it celebrity parents? A new adult celebrity with a cool name? Posh parents in NYC? There are a few names (mostly boys) that I think are ready to be rediscovered that you list as “retired”. So who decides when the name becomes cool again? Thanks!

pam Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 6:59 pm

nameberry decides! No, really, it’s much bigger than any of us — but this is a great idea that demands at least one blog post. Thank you!

Tirzah Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Did you notice that when they announced President Obama’s name at the inauguration, they said “Barak H. Obama”? It sounded very calculated not to bring attention to the middle name Hussein, especially since even George W. Bush was introduced with his full middle name. I wonder if he will use Barak H. Obama from now on? I didn’t realize that so many Presidents massaged their names. That just goes to show that name is image!

Melissa Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Also worth noting as a presidential name is Truman, which had a brief but noticeable spike in popularity right after his election. And isn’t it interesting that the girl’s name Reagan made a significant jump the year he passed away?

linda Says:

January 21st, 2009 at 2:27 am

Tirzah–They did say the full Hussein name when he took the oath of office.

Loren Says:

January 25th, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Bill Clinton’s original name was William Jefferson Blythe III, but he changed it at age 14 to his stepfather’s last name, so he and his younger brother would have the same name.

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