A President by any other name . . . ?

Mom didn’t want any of her kids to be President

And who could blame her? Born in the waning months of Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Mom has survived the tenures of sixteen men (and with God’s grace, may well survive a 17th). During that time, only two managed to achieve general good will throughout and at the end of their administrations. I speak of Eisenhower, already a hero for defeating Hitler and the Nazis, and who attracted the same kind of affection one has for their grandfather or favorite uncle, and Coolidge, who stayed so cool hardly anyone noticed when he left office. All of the others were at one time or another vilified, and called names unspeakable in semi-civilized company by the most vocal of one faction or another.

Those who suffered only verbal abuse were the lucky ones. Two (Kennedy and Reagan) were shot, one fatally; three (Roosevelt, Truman, Ford) were shot at, fortunately without effect; one (Ford), in addition to actually being shot at, had a pistol pointed at him that failed to fire. Two (Harding and Roosevelt) died in office of more-or-less natural causes, though the strain of the office may have played a part. One (Clinton) was impeached, though not convicted. Another (Nixon) resigned in the face of impeachment. Four (Hoover, Ford, Carter, Bush I) were incumbents who were sent packing. A fifth might well be (although that is far from certain). Two (Truman and Johnson) declined to run for re-election because they perceived certain defeat.

So what did Mom do? Well according to John Steele Gordon writing today in the Wall Street Journal she simply named her three sons Robert, David, and Steven. No President has ever had one of those as their first name, although Eisenhower’s middle name was David.

According to Gordon (and I already knew and had verified these facts), six Presidents have been named James, four have been named William, four named John, three Georges, and two Andrews. The rest – 22 in all – had unusual handles given to them.

Mom also had three daughters, but because women have only recently been within striking distance of being C in C in their own right, any of them would have been a first, Christian name and all. As an aside, President Wilson had a debilitating stroke the year Mom was born, and the consensus was that his wife Edith pretty much made his decisions for him during his last year. See James S. McCallops, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson: The Unintended President. Nova History Publications, 2003.

Gordon doesn’t discuss surnames, but a review of the 43 (because of his split terms, Grover Cleveland is denominated the 22nd and 24th) men who held the Presidential office, indicates most bore family names that originated in the British Isles, that is, England and Scotland. Two – Kennedy and Reagan – are recognizably Irish (and they were the ones who were shot at with effect – is that a weird coincidence or what?). Three – Van Buren and the Roosevelts – are Dutch. Ike’s name is of German origin, and, President Obama’s is Kenyan, or at least an Anglicized version thereof.

What all of this means beyond being sophisticated small-talk (is that an oxymoron?), I can’t venture a guess. Gordon speculates that unusual given names might more memorable, and thus help at the ballot box. But unusual names can be somewhat off-putting, or are they? I’ll let the political consultants take over from here. My one unsuccessful foray into that venue proves I’m no expert.

For those interested, Mr. Gordon’s article can be located at this link.

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