Unique Names in US History: Meet Sen. Rejoice
By Andy Osterdahl
For the past fifteen years I’ve been collecting and categorizing various oddly named American political figures. In July of 2011, I began to share my findings and established the “Strangest Names in American Political History” blog that presently contains biographies of over 560 unusually named elected officials. In a previous article I wrote for Nameberry in July of 2014, I included examples of the origins of a number of particular names. Since that time I have made a number of new and unusual discoveries!
I found it interesting to compare popular names of today to those that were commonplace in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of these, such as the given first names Jabez, Abijah and Lysander, would no doubt be considered unusual these days. With some of my more recent odd-name discoveries, I have observed a number of word-related names appearing that led me to believe that Webster’s Dictionary was quite the useful naming tool for many nineteenth century expectant parents—even more so than they are doing today.
One example is the uniquely named Maine State Assemblyman Retire Whittemore Frees (1785-1860), undoubtedly the only elected official in American history bestowed with that first name. Its origin stemmed from the verb that we’re all familiar with.
And then there is Memorable Walker Creagh (1817-1872), an Alabama state representative who served during the 1860s. The precise reason he was given Memorable as a first name has been lost to history, but likely is connected to his parents wanting for their son a “name worth remembering.” The parents of Iowa attorney and jurist Centenary Bangs Bradshaw (1839-1916) also decided to consult a dictionary before naming their child. The end result was one of the most amusingly named lawmakers ever to preside over an Iowa courtroom.
Some word-based names have religious connotations, such as the virtue or grace names used by the Society of Friends (Quakers). While female grace names like Patience, Charity and Chastity are fairly unusual, they pale in comparison to some of the male virtue names I’ve discovered over the years. For example, did you know that the good citizens of Cumberland County, New Jersey elected as their state senator a man named Providence Ludlam? How about the name “Friend”? This word (used as the traditional Quaker greeting) is also the first name of over two dozen American political figures. California Governor Friend William Richardson and New Hampshire State Legislator Friend Little Burbank are two examples.
Other Quaker virtue names such as Increase and Rejoice also found their way into American political life. Massachusetts Governor Increase Sumner was endowed with that curious name, and Massachusetts state representative and senator Rejoice Newton (1782-1868) had a first name that you couldn’t help but find delightful. Another unusual name with Quaker origins was chosen by the parents of one Deliverance S. Priest (1814-1888), a native of Macomb County, Michigan who represented that county in the state legislature from 1869-1873.
Another interesting aspect of some of these oddly named political figures is the occurrence of names such as Zina, which was applied to both genders. While I have encountered one or two instances of that name being used for females (American tennis player Zina Garrison was one, actress Zina Bethune another), during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was a popular name for boys. Zina Goldthwait Chase, a Vermont state representative and Zina Pitcher, a two-term mayor of Detroit, Michigan are two examples. Other names such as Vivian and Evelyn were popular for both genders during earlier centuries. Even Chelsea (predominantly a girl’s name) was used for males. One wonders if Connecticut State Representative Chelsea Crandall Vinton (1826-1906) ever resented his parents’ choice for his name–though it wasn’t in as common use for girls at that time..
State names were another popular choice for expectant parents way back when, with several political figures being named in honor of a particular state. You would think that Nevada Northrop Stranahan (1861-1928) would be somehow connected to that southwestern state, but this would be an incorrect. He was multi-term member of both houses of the New York State Legislature! Another is Oregon Demarcus Magintry Gaddis (1859-1940) who despite the first name Oregon, wasn’t connected to that state at all. He actually resided in Arizona where he served as a member of the territorial assembly.
In addition to the above examples, the female Alaska Stewart Linck (1910-2008) was a territorial representative in Alaska in the early 1940s and is so far the only instance I’ve located of a politician whose first name coincides with the state that she was elected to serve in.
Andrew Osterdahl is the creator of the webpage/blog “The Strangest Names in American Political History,” online since July 2011. For further information and updates on these intriguingly named folks, you can follow and “like” his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Strangest-Names-In-American-Political-History/131941583590341