New names and old

In explaining why she picked “Barack” as the 2007 Name of the Year, Laura Wattenberg spits out the following stunner:

In 215 years of American electoral history encompassing 105 major nominees, the overwhelming majority of candidates have had traditional English names. In fact, the names George, James, John and William alone account for more than a third of all nominees.

She continues:

Among rarer names, most are based on English surnames such as Rutherford and Winfield. Many of these are taken from the nominee’s mother’s maiden name, and many were actually given as middle names: Thomas Woodrow Wilson, James Strom Thurmond, Stephen Grover Cleveland.

A few candidate names have had more creative flair, like those of Horatio Seymour and the man who defeated him, Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses). Both names harken back to a 19th-century vogue for classical names which also yielded hits like Rufus and Augustus. They were uncommon but not foreign, and in step with American fashions. The most unconventional name on the list is probably Adlai Stevenson, but even Adlai is a biblical name. It had been used in Stevenson’s family for generations, including by a grandfather who served as U.S. Vice President.

No notably foreign names. Nothing remotely like Barack. Because Barack isn’t just “un-English,” it’s very much something else. . . .

P.S. More detail here.

1 thought on “New names and old

  1. If she's got "105 major nominees" then she's clearly counting a candidate each time he runs — for example, William gets counted three times for William Jennings Bryan's three attempts.

    Maybe that's a legitimate thing to measure, but it's not what's implied when she says "the overwhelming majority of candidates".

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