Monday, September 24, 2012

President(ial) Names

by Dutch artist MsGothje

Note: President(ial) Names was originally published in January 28, 2008 on my old blog. It was revised and republished September 24, 2012.

In the honor of the upcoming election, I did some research on the popularity of U.S. Presidents' names. Not their first names (sorry... no Chester, Grover or Barack in this article), but their last names. Here is a list of the ones currently being used (2011 rankings) – along with the possible correlation between peak of name and presidential term.  Keep in mind that SSA rankings began in 1880.

Arthur (#338) – peaked at #14 in the 1880s and 1890s, Arthur was president from 1881-1885
Carter (#41) – currently at the highest ranking at #41 in 2011 (Karter is currently ranked at #391), Carter was president from 1977-1981
Clinton (#923) – peaked at #124 in 1981, Clinton was president from 1994-2001
Grant (#151) – peaked at #114 in 1997, Grant was president from 1869-1877
Harrison (#197) – peaked at #52 in 1888, Harrison was president from 1889-1893
Hayes (#776) – peaked at #513 in 1905, Hayes was president from 1877-1881
Jackson (#23) – currently at the highest ranking at #23 in 2011 (Jaxen is currently ranked at #595, Jaxon is #86, Jaxson is #140), Jackson was president from 1829-1837
Jefferson (#702) – peaked at #255 in 1880, Jefferson was president from 1801-1809
Kennedy (#90) – peaked at #516 in 1964 and currently at the highest ranking at #90 in 2011 (Kennedi is currently ranked at #445), Kennedy was president from 1961-1963
Lincoln (#178) – currently at the highest ranking at #178 in 2011, Lincoln was president from 1861-1865
Madison (#8) – peaked at #312 in 1881 and #2 in 2001 and 2002 (Maddison is currently ranked at #322, Madisyn at #410 and Madyson at #502), Madison was president from 1809-1817
McKinley (#451) – peaked at #137 in 1896 and currently at the highest ranking at #451 in 2011, McKinley was president from 1897-1901
Nixon (#901) – currently at the highest (and only) ranking at #901 in 2011, Nixon was president from 1969-1974
Pierce (#474) – peaked at #394 in 1886, Pierce was president from 1853-1857
Reagan (#892#122) – peaked at #596 in 2004 and currently at the highest ranking at #122 in 2011 (Raegan is currently ranked at #341 and Regan at #930), Reagan was president from 1981-1989
Taylor (#337#44) – peaked at #51 in 1993 and #6 in 1994, 1995 and 1996, Taylor was president from 1849-1850
Tyler (#38) – peaked at #5 in 1993 and 1994 (also peaked at #238 in 1993, was ranked from 1984 until 2007), Tyler was president from 1841-1845
Wilson (#603) – 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 and the name peaked at #88)
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)
Truman 1880-1955, then sporadically between 1957 and 1971, and then again between 2004 and 2010 (Truman was president from 1945-1953 and the name peaked at #350 in 1904)
Washington 1880-1921

Only BuchananEisenhower, FillmoreObama, 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 900s.

-Hayes re-entered the top 1000 in 2009 after being absent since 1931 (before which it was ranked pretty sporadically).  It jumped from #955 in 2009 to #776 in 2011.

-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 fell back out after 2005. For girls, Kennedy entered the top 1000 in 1994 and has increased in popularity ever since. 

-Madison 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 #857.

-McKinley as a boy’s name was in the top 1000 from 1890 until 1966. McKinley as a girl’s name has been in the top 1000 since 2006 and has jumped 500 spots in 5 years.

-Nixon has made its first appearance in the top 1000!  Have people lived past the resignation stigma enough to realize the great potential of this name?  We'll see if it sticks around in the years to come.

-Reagan as a boy’s name has only been in the top 1000 since 1996. Reagan as a girl’s name was a part of the top 1000 between 1975 and 1981. It didn’t re-enter the top 1000 until 1993 and since 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, didn’t re-enter until 2003 and has only dropped out again this past year.

-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, but dropped off of the girls list after 2007.

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 result of admiring the man from a historical context, in which case I wouldn’t know unless I asked everyone with a little Kennedy or Reagan why they used that name. I already know someone who 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.

Baby Name Wizard has an interesting article by Laura Wattenberg about the names of presidents. I 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. 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. While I have tried to be as thorough in my research as possible, let me know if you notice anything or see/know anything else that would be of interest. Anyway, Wattenberg seems to come to a similar conclusion… parents choose these names because of their style, not because they are “presidential.”  She also predicted an upswing for the name Lincoln, which has risen over 300 spots since the article was written.

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), Lincoln (love the nn Linc), Reagan, and Wilson.

What do you think? Which of these names do you like, if any? Would you use it for a boy or girl or both? And given the current election, if Obama only serves four years, what are the chances Romney would become a popular name in the future?



  1. This is my favorite subset of names.
    I think it's interesting (but not surprising) that people are waiting until after the term to use the name. Just goes to show how we hold impressions of people. Carter was not all that popular as presidents go - but seems to be well thought of now. Clinton, on the other hand was relatively popular, but we can't seem to get past the thought of big macs and interns when his name is mentioned. :)
    I still love Harrison and Wilson, and would probably use Reagan for a girl. I like Pierce, too but think you'd have to have a pretty amazing last name to make that one work. :)

  2. You just missed a Lincoln, used to live on soi 4. And his mom made the best food on the planet, so you missed her cookies too :(
    I liked Reagan for Zoe, but a coworker used it before me and Sam hated it. Plus we would've run the risk of my dad bowing down to her...


Thank you for leaving a comment on this blog! Please remember that we are respectful of other people's opinions.