So what happened? Why did we stop naming our children after presidents? Or did we? Perhaps people still do. With names like George, James, and even Theodore being so common these days, it’s hard to even tell if the name was inspired by their presidential counterparts or by something else.
Either way, there’s plenty of evidence, both past and recent, of parents bestowing names of US presidents on their children. Some of our favorite celebrities and most celebrated figures, in fact, have been named after a leader their parents respected. Sometimes, that naming honor went not to a child but an artistic child, like, for instance, an iconic stuffed animal, or a famous cartoon-strip character.
With a fresh new president in office, now's a good time to look at a list of 10 presidents whose names have been passed down through the generations.
1. Franklin Roosevelt
No president in the history of America served as long as FDR, who served 4 terms. But neither the length of his presidency or his accomplishments during those 12 years can be cited as the cause for the huge spike of little Franklins that started gracing America’s maternity wards--the biggest spike in babies named Franklin occurred at the beginning of his presidency.
According to a Slate article based on US Census stats, babies named Franklin surged within the first two years of his being elected, with 5 times as many Franklins being born on the day he was elected in 1932 compared to the prior week. Parents continued to steadily name their children Franklin throughout his presidency, though the name began to wane in popularity. However, as Slate notes, every year through 1960 there was one day on the calendar that spawned substantially more little Franklins than any other--January 30th, FDRs birthday.
2. George Washington
The most famous person bearing the namesake of America’s first president was not given the name by his parents--but rather by himself.
George Washington Carver, the legendary agricultural scientist and inventor, was born into slavery and his last name, Carver, came from the plantation owner. Having introduced himself as “Carver’s George,” he was told to change it to George Carver, and it’s believed that he took “Washington” as his middle name as a young adult, long before his own name became synonymous with his revolutionary work in science and agriculture.
Of course, the name George, as well as its female varieties such as Georgianna, have been steadily popular American names for centuries. Not to mention the plethora of buildings, monuments, and airports named after the first US President.
3. John F. Kennedy
To get a feel for how much JFK influenced Americans, simply head over to the “Babies Named After the President” exhibit on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s website.
The exhibit features dozens of handwritten letters, excited birth announcements, and deferential telegrams from excited new parents, some hailing from as far away as Ghana, informing Kennedy that they were naming their newborns after him. They provide a real, visceral feel for the love, hope, and honor people bestowed on JFK.
It’s no coincidence that the name “John” reached its peak in American usage in 1964, with 82,541 boys being given the name the year after his assasination. It has remained a popular name and honorific ever since.
4. Woodrow Wilson
“This machine kills fascists,” was the famous inscription scrawled on the guitar of legendary folk singer and political activist Woody Guthrie. Originally named Woodrow Wilson Guthrie after the 28th president of the United States, Guthrie was just one of many Americans whose name was a nod to the Democratic president.
Woodrow was originally an English name. Its popularity in America surged dramatically after Wilson became president: in 1911, the year before his election, there were only 121 babies named Woodrow. The next year, when he was sworn into office, that number spiked to a whopping 1,843 boys (and 11 girls) given the name Woodrow.
5. Abraham Lincoln
Due to the religious significance of the name Abraham, it’s impossible to say with certainty how many Abrahams were dubbed such in honor of Lincoln. But, unlike names such as James, which have been shared by multiple presidents, there was only one president named Abraham, a fact whose singularity points to the enormous influence Lincoln had over the country and parents specifically.
According to the Huffington Post, the name Abraham has endured just like Lincoln’s legacy has: in 1900 it was the 195th most popular boys name; more than 100 years later in 2013, it still hovered at #183. And perhaps more than any other president, Lincoln’s name is tied to countless memorials, schools, museums, and other civic ventures across the country.
6. Barack Obama
If you’re comparing raw numbers alone, you may be surprised to see the name “Barack” on this list. But naming trends have less to do with isolated numbers than their correlation to each other over time. In that case, Obama belongs on this list, and perhaps even higher up.
Consider the fact that in 2006, when Barack Obama was just making a name for himself as a US Senator, there were 0 babies given the name Barack. Just 1 year later, after he’d announced his run for presidency, the US Census reports 5 newborns named Barack. In 2008, the year he was elected, a stunning 52 baby Barack’s were born, which increased even more to 71 in 2009.
Factoring in the uniqueness of the name itself and its statistically meteoric rise in just a few years, you can see that Obama belongs amongst the ranks of Kennedy, Lincoln, and others whose names made their way onto birth certificates as well as ballots.
7. Grover Cleveland
You may not know anyone named Grover, but you’d be mistaken if you thought that this 22nd (and 24th) president didn’t at one time influence parents across the country to name their children Grover.
For one thing, the name Grover wasn’t even a first name until the president came along. In fact, it wasn’t even his first name! His parents named him Stephen Cleveland, after a popular minister named Stephen Glover. The future president adopted the first-name Grover as a nickname, and once he became president it caught on in America.
Count Hall of Fame baseball player Grover Cleveland Alexander, born while the president was in office, as one notable example of how the name took off in American homes. Since then, a large number of American politicians have had the name Grover, as well as famous athletes, entertainers, and of course one notable blue puppet.
8. Teddy Roosevelt
A larger-than-life personality whose rugged mannerisms and love of the outdoors have all but cemented his legacy in both the political and environmental arenas, it’s only natural that 26th President Theodore Teddy Roosevelt should have as his most famous namesake not a person, but a stuffed bear.
The Teddy Bear, of course. Inspired by a hunting trip during which the president failed to get a catch and refused to kill a bear that his handler had caught for him out of pity, the Teddy Bear first appeared in a Washington Post political cartoon depicting the failed hunting trip, and later, after the creator received permission from the president, as the teddy bear, the soft, stuffed bear that may be the first best friend of every American child.
9. James Garfield
There have been 6 US Presidents named James. And that’s to say nothing of other historical figures who shared the same name. So it’s harder than other names to certify which president a James might have been named after, if any at all.
That is, unless your name is James Garfield Davis, in which case it’s pretty clear that the name was given in honor of President James Garfield.
Not much is known about James Garfield Davis. So why is he important? Because of his grandson, a man named Jim Davis who created a famous cat and named him after the grandfather who himself was named after the president.
Got all that? That’s right, next time you read a Garfield strip, think about the links between the wise-cracking, lasagna-slurping striped cat, and the esteemed 20th President of the United States.
10. Richard Nixon
We’re reversing the rules of this list for Richard Nixon. Not only is he not in the top 10, he may be at the bottom of the list all presidential naming honors. Forget children named after him, today you’re hard-pressed to find monuments, memorial highways, or even back-roads named after the disgraced former president.
But that doesn’t mean his name hasn’t served US culture in some way. His middle name Milhouse was the inspiration for the famous Simpson character Milhouse Van Houten, perpetual loser, butt-of-all-jokes, and Bart’s most loyal foil. Ouch.
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