What’s in a presidential name?

We all go through life constructing ourselves and how we wish to be known to others. Even presidential candidates.

Quick: which 3 current presidential don’t use the first names that they were born with? And who is Cara Sneed? Keep reading.

future Presidential candidate Cara Sneed, from PhotoBucket
Cara Sneed

Some of the presidential candidates still prefer to use their given first and last birth names, as in John Kasich, Martin O’Malley, Donald Trump.

There is, though, a trend for candidates and politicians to use nicknames, no doubt in order to project more closeness to ordinary voters, going back at least to the successful 1948 and 1952 campaign slogans “Give ’em hell, Harry” and “I like Ike.” James Earl Carter went so far as to change his legal name to Jimmy Carter, the name under which he was inaugurated. The young William Jefferson Blythe took his stepfather’s last name and emerged as the Bill Clinton we have seen in the daily news for almost 25 years (though using William Jefferson Clinton for formal effect). Clinton is not Billy, though opponents have tried unsuccessfully to make Willy stick to him; and his affectionate name for Hillary, Hill, is not in public use. For other politically famed nickname holders, think of Teddy and Bobby Kennedy (though not Johnny).

Thus Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr., is known to us as Ben (definitely not Benny), Christopher James Christie as Chris, Michael Dale Huckabee as Mike, Richard John Santorum as Rick, and Bernard Sanders as Bernie. Just like our friends and neighbors, they use familiar nicknames—a reflection of our times; we don’t think of our founding presidents #1-3 as Georgie, Johnnie, and Tommy, for sure.

I wondered whether Rand Paul had any association (other than ideological) to the writer Ayn Rand, but it seems not: he was born Randal Howard Paul, grew up as Randy (good to have left that one behind), and changed to Rand at his wife’s choice.

In another trend, FDR, JFK, and LBJ are well known by their initials, but none of the current crop seems to have tried that (particularly not Bernie Sanders, and not Barack Obama either). HRC does appear sometimes for Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose name is a story in itself.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a well-accepted and now traditional name pattern for married women. She actually retained the name Hillary Rodham when married in 1975, but soon preferred Hillary Clinton in her and her husband’s campaigns to make voters more comfortable, and two months ago the New York Tiimes decided to take out the Rodham and use the two-part name, which is also that of her campaign website.

How about the other woman in the campaign? Carly Fiorina, who has spun stories about rising from the secretary’s desk to the boardroom, started life as Cara Carleton Sneed, daughter of Joseph Tyree Sneed, III, a distinguished law professor, judge, and US Deputy Attorney General under president Richard Nixon (whose nickname became derogatory, when preceded by Tricky). Fiorina comes from her (second) husband, Frank Fiorina. Not, it seems, Cara, not Carleton, not Carly Sneed Fiorina. That shows good judgment: Cara Sneed for president just doesn’t have the same musical ring as Carly Fiorina.

But the most interesting current first names are those of two male candidates.

Jeb Bush bears the real name John Ellis Bush; his 3 initials gave rise to his long-standing nickname Jeb (perhaps a gesture to the Confederate general and hero Jeb Stuart, whose given name was James Ewell Brown?). The current Jeb has been Jeb in personal and political life and as governor of Florida. The exclamation mark motif, Jeb!, was used already in his first gubernatorial campaign in 1994. The official Florida list of governors gives John Ellis Bush in the title but refers to him in the text as Jeb Bush. If he were to become president, would he, like Jimmy Carter, choose to legally change his name so as to be inaugurated as Jeb (preferably not Jeb!)?

And then there’s Rafael Edward Cruz, the name under which the Tea Party hero was born in Calgary, Alberta (see his birth certificate in a video on CNN. He is not Rafael Jr., because his father, the oilman turned minister, is Rafael Bienvenido Cruz. First nicknamed Felito (from Rafaelito), in high school he found it subject to mockery and chose the more mainstream-sounding nickname Ted. As Texas solicitor general he was known as R. Edward Cruz (as of his first Supreme Court appearance, 2003) and in the Biographical Directory of the US Congress, he is shown as Rafael Edward Cruz; but now he is Ted to the rest of us.

However, Marco Antonio Rubio has not chosen an Anglo nickname and is definitely not Mark, probably another politically beneficial decision, especially in Florida.

Ultimately, candidates and presidents are just like the rest of us: they once were children, they sleep and wake, catch the flu, have formed their personalities over the years, and have chosen the way others refer to them, past and present… possibly with the help of some focus groups of ordinary voters.

I started this train of thought with the family name Trump: Friedrich Drumpf, after immigrating in 1885, made the name change that now benefits his political grandson Donald (Donny Drumpf for President, I don’t think so!).

Will “the Donald” start a trend of using a definite article with first names? It turns out that his definite article, added by the faulty English of his first wife Ivana (who also called him The Don, which hasn’t yet caught on), entered public consciousness with a Spy magazine article in 1989.

The definite article is not recommended for Governor Kasich, but the Martin or the Carly, anyone?
feelthebern-mug_grandeThe Sanders campaign is using the definite article cleverly and punningly in its phrase “Feel the Bern” (popularized by Jane Fonda’s workout videos, and roughly equivalent to “No pain, no gain”), which you can find on his paraphernalia including this “Feel the Bern” mug.

Perhaps the future belongs to those who are ahead of the language curve.

About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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