• January 2008
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President(ial) Names

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who are making this little experiment of mine a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed all of the responses and I hope to keep it entertaining!

Now onto this week’s article. In the honor of the upcoming election, I want to talk about using the names of our U.S. Presidents when naming children. I’m not talking about the presidents’ first names, I’m talking about their last names. Here is a list of the ones currently being used (2006 rankings) – along with the possible correlation between peak of name and presidential term (SSA rankings began in 1880):

Arthur (#377) – peaked at #14 in the 1880s and 1890s, Arthur was president from 1881-1885
Carter (#75) – peaked at #75 in 2006, Carter was president from 1977-1981
Clinton (#844) – peaked at #124 in 1981, Clinton was president from 1994-2001
Grant (#155) – peaked at #114 in 1997, Grant was president from 1869-1877
Harrison (#232) – peaked at #52 in 1888, Harrison was president from 1889-1893
Jackson (#36) – peaked at #36 in 2006, Jackson was president from 1829-1837
Jefferson (#642) – peaked at #255 in 1880, Jefferson was president from 1801-1809
Kennedy (#992, #115) – peaked at #516 in 1964 and #115 in 2006, Kennedy was president from 1961-1963
Lincoln (#300) – peaked at #300 in 2006, Lincoln was president from 1861-1865
Madison (#3) – peaked at #312 in 1881 and #2 in 2001, Madison was president from 1809-1817
McKinley (#964) – peaked at #137 in 1896 and #964 in 2006, McKinley was president from 1897-1901
Pierce (#549) – peaked at #394 in 1886, Pierce was president from 1853-1857
Reagan (#792, #155) – peaked at #596 in 2004 and #138 in 2005, Reagan was president from 1981-1989
Taylor (#222, #22) – peaked at #51 in 1993 and #6 in 1994, Taylor was president from 1849-1850
Truman (#943) – peaked at #350 in 1904, Truman was president from 1945-1953
Tyler (#18, #741) – peaked at #5 in 1993 and #238 in 1993, Tyler was president from 1841-1845
Wilson (#512) – peaked at #122 in 1913, Wilson was president from 1913-1921

Almost all of the President’s names have been in the top 1000 at one time or another. Here is a list of the name and the years it was on the list (and if it corresponds to the presidential term, I included that as well):

Adams 1898
Bush 1889
Cleveland 1880-1989 (Cleveland was president from 1885-1889 and 1893-1897 and the name peaked at #92 in 1884)
Coolidge 1924-1925 (Coolidge was president from 1923-1929)
Ford 1880-1951 (off and on)
Garfield 1880-1953 (Garfield was president in 1881 when the name peaked at #88)
Hayes 1880-1931 (off and on)
Harding 1920-1923 (Harding was president from 1921-1923)
Hoover 1928-1932 (Hoover was president from 1929-1933)
Johnson 1880-1948, and then sporadically between 1982 and 1987
Monroe 1880-1971
Polk 1890
Roosevelt 1895-1993 (Teddy Roosevelt was president from 1901-1909 and the name peaked at #91 in 1905)
Taft 1907-1912 (Taft was president from 1909-1913 and the name peaked in 1908)
Washington 1880-1921

Only Buchanan, Eisenhower, Fillmore, Nixon and Van Buren have never cracked the top 1000.

Some interesting tidbits of info from my research on the names currently being used:

-In 1978 and 1979, Carter was not ranked in the top 1000. Prior to 1978, it was a steady name in lower half of the top 1000. Starting in 1979, it re-entered the top 1000 and has increased in popularity ever since.

-Clinton has been ranked #211 and higher from the beginning of record-keeping until 1993. Since then it has steadily fallen and is now into the 800s.

-Kennedy entered the top 1000 for boys at #723 in 1960. It jumped to #592 in 1961, was #828 in 1962, #624 in 1963, and #516 in 1964. After 1964, it went back down into the 600s-900s until it fell out of the top 1000 in 1969. It re-entered the top 1000 in 1994, but has stayed pretty low. For girls, Kennedy entered the top 1000 in 1994 and has increased in popularity ever since. It is also spelled Kennedi (ranked #622 in 2006).

-Madison is also spelled Maddison (#403 in 2006), Madisyn (#414), and Madyson (#408). It entered the top 1000 for girls in 1985 and became extremely popular starting in 1993. It has been in the top 1000 for boys since the beginning of record-keeping, except for a big gap of time between 1953 and 1986 when it re-entered the top 1000 only to fall back out in 2000. In 2004, it temporarily came back at #858.

-McKinley as a boy’s name was in the top 1000 from 1890 until 1966. McKinley as a girl’s name has only been in the top 1000 in 2006.

-Reagan as a boy’s name has only been in the top 1000 since 1996. Reagan as a girl’s name hit the top 1000 in 1975 and then stayed and left the top 1000 until 1981. It didn’t re-enter the top 1000 until 1993 and then has become increasingly more popular.

-Taylor as a boy’s name has been in the top 1000 since record-keeping began. Taylor as a girl’s name didn’t enter the top 1000 until 1979.

-Truman was in the top 1000 pretty steadily until 1972 and then it didn’t re-enter until 2003, but has just barely stayed there.

-Tyler didn’t really enter the top 1000 until 1946 for boys and 1984 for girls. Tyler reached its peak for both sexes in the same year of 1993!

A lot of this to say that the timing of the presidential term rarely has an effect on naming children, unless it’s the late 19th century or early 20th century. It seems like people may have avoided the name Reagan while he was president, and Clinton has decreased in popularity since his term began. I also noticed the popularity of a name the year before the man became president (maybe while he was running for president). It’s a shame the record-keeping doesn’t go back further… it would have been interesting to see how many Lincolns were out there in the 1860s or Jeffersons were out there in the early 1800s.

Looking at it another way, the popularity could have absolutely nothing to do with the president; for example, Madison became a hot name after the movie Splash came out in 1984 (I realized that correlation from The Baby Name Wizard book). Even if the term of the president has nothing to do with the name’s popularity at the time of the presidency, popularity later on could be a “looking back into history” phenomenon, in which case I wouldn’t know unless I asked everyone with a little Kennedy or Reagan why they named their child that name (which I would SO do). πŸ™‚ I already know my friend Erin named her daughter Kennedy because it was her maiden name. So… one down.

Whether people use these names on their children because they are Presidents’ names, because of some other fad, because they just like them, or because of coincidence, it was still fun to do this research. I also liked studying the differences in usage for the two genders. As you can see, most of these names are only used for boys. And while Kennedy, Madison, McKinley, Reagan and Taylor are seen on both genders, they have mostly been taken over by the girls (Tyler is used for both, but is still dominantly male).

Here is an interesting article by Wattenberg about the names of presidents. I just read it (after I did my research), and she says that parents nowadays are waiting until the presidential term is up before using the names. (Another thing I noticed was that she doesn’t list Nixon as a name that hasn’t been in the top 1000, but I don’t see it anywhere on the SSA website.) As I said before, parents in the past seemed to use the names of the president as he was running for the office or early in his presidency. Just an observation from me. Believe it or not, the research I have done for this post is not completely thorough, so if you notice anything or see/know anything else that would be of interest, let me know. πŸ™‚ Anyway, Wattenberg seems to come to a similar conclusion… parents choose these names because of their style, not because they are “presidential.”

In closing, I really like most of these names. I think the only ones I would consider using are Harrison (although I think the nn Harry wouldn’t go well with my last name), Jackson (not so much anymore, but I love the nn Jack), Lincoln (love the Pres and love the nn Linc), Reagan (yes, because I love him) and Wilson (more because it is also Reagan’s middle name).

What do you think? Which of these names do you like, if any? Would you use it for a boy or girl or both?

8 Responses

  1. Well . . . if I was the only one who had to like the name for our new little guy, it would be Grant Harrison. But, I’m still waiting for Ben to decide . . .

    We also talked about Carter, or using Reagan for a girl. πŸ™‚

    We have actually looked at the list of presidents and VPs when we were trying to come up with names — so we’re just political geeks like that I guess. But, we had talked about all four of these names before we really looked at the list .

    This is really interesting — especially that Clinton has declined in popularity since his term.

  2. Kelly…you are the bomb! I am so intrigued by your research and explanation of names. I was trying to tell Brian about this blog this weekend and why it was so fun to read,I guess my affinity to names and such goes way far back to all the dolls and things that he will never understand. I have many on the list of Presidents names that I am partial to: Kennedy (girl or boy) Grant, Lincoln, Carter. I think the names off that list are very strong and unique. I am not fond of nicknames, but Jack is one I could make as an exception.

  3. I love a lot of presidential names, but I named my golden retriever Reagan, so I probably wouldn’t use that for my child! I’m a huge political science geek, and when I was about 16 I decided if I ever had 2 boys I’d name them Jefferson and Jackson. Funny!

  4. I have friends with a 1.5 year old named Jackson but they call him Jack.

    Anyway NO WAY would I ever name my child one of these. I think they are too trendy at the moment and trendy names make me want to throw-up. Sorry about being a bit vulgar but it gets my point across.

  5. I like the name Lincoln (I’m guessing Peyton would hate it). But the nickname Link is kind of neat. Kudos on the research, Kelli!

  6. Being a recovering political science major (recovering because the mere thought of politics now makes me nauseous), I have to admit that at one time I liked a lot of these names — Reagan, McKinley, Kennedy & Tyler for the girls and Carter or Jefferson for a boy — but now I wouldn’t dream of using any of them. They’re a little to common, for one and I guess I just wouldn’t want people asking me if it’s because of the president all the time.

    And man, the research must have taken a while. Those Berlin winters must be real cold! πŸ™‚

  7. Oh I already have to amend my comment. I at one time considered using the name Jackson but not directly because of the president. It’s my grandmother’s maiden name and family legend has it that we are in some way related to Andrew Jackson. But I’ve since ruled it out because it’s really popular (there at least 5 Jacksons at our church) and because, well, my grandmother is mean and why would I want to name my child after her? So sad, but true.

  8. Part of me really wants to kind of go along with this trend and go for a presidential nicknake. I mean, how hilarious would it be to have name a son “Gipper”? I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to get anyone else on-board with that, though. And then there would be the therapy bills to coutneract the playground teasing…

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