Thursday, August 7, 2014

What's in a (Presidential) Name?

Names have meanings. A friend of my son, for example, is named Amy Vachon. And, yes, that does indeed mean “beloved cow” in French.

The tall hater

Names also have origins. Take Smith, for example. Every little village in the Middle Ages (when surnames first became common) had a smith, and that person’s job was pretty important to that little village. It’s why Smith is one of the most common names in English-speaking countries. There are equivalents, however, in pretty much every European tongue:
  • German – Schmidt
  • Dutch – Smit, Smits
  • French – Lefebvre
  • Spanish – Herrera
  • Italian – Ferraro
  • Ireland/Scotland – McGowan, MacGowan
  • Polish – Kowalski
  • Russian – Kuznetsov
  • Slovak – Kovacs

Theoretically, you can take any name and come up with a meaning for it. “Thomas Edison,” for example, means “one of the twin sons of Edward.” And “Edward” means “protector of wealth.” So “Thomas Edison” ultimately means “one of the twin sons of the protector of wealth.” 

So, let’s take a look at the meanings of the names of our chief executives. Maybe we can even come up with hidden, fortuitous insights into their actual character (but, then again, probably not). Anyway, here goes …

God favors the red one

Meanings
  • George Washington – The farmer from the town of the victor of the hunt
  • John Adams – God favors the red one
  • Thomas Jefferson – The twin, son of Peace of God
  • James Madison – He who seizes by the heel, the son of the one from the tower
  • James Monroe – He who seizes by the heel, from the hill
  • John Quincy Adams – God favors the fifth-born red one
  • Andrew Jackson – The manly one, son of the one God favors
  • Martin Van Buren – The martial one, from the house
  • William H. Harrison – Helmet of the will, the home ruler, son of the home ruler
  • John Tyler – God favors the tile maker

God favors the fifth-born red one

  • James K. Polk – He who seizes by the heel, of great glory
  • Zachary Taylor – God remembers the tailor
  • Millard Fillmore – The very famous, good, and brave one
  • Franklin Pierce – The free man, son of The Rock
  • James Buchanan – He who seizes by the heel, from the house of the monk
  • Abraham Lincoln – Father of nations, from the colony by the lake
  • Andrew Johnson – The manly one, son of the one God favors
  • Ulysses S. Grant – The tall hater
  • Rutherford B. Hayes – Son of fire, from the cattle ford
  • James A. Garfield – He who seizes by the heel, from the corner of the field

Son of the one God favors, 
from the hill with the lime tree on it

  • Chester A. Arthur – Camp bear
  • Grover Cleveland – The grove dweller, from the land of the cliffs
  • Benjamin Harrison – Son of the home ruler’s sorrow
  • William McKinley – Helmet of the will, son of the fair warrior
  • Theodore Roosevelt – Gift of God, from the field of roses
  • William H. Taft – Helmet of the will, from the homestead
  • Woodrow Wilson – Son of the Helmet of the Will, from the row of cottages by the woods
  • Warren G. Harding – The park warden, son of the hard one
  • Calvin Coolidge – The bald one, from the college
  • Herbert Hoover – Bright as the army, a landowner

The powerful ruler, son of the ruler of the people

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt – The free man, from the field of roses
  • Harry S. Truman – The trustworthy home ruler
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower – The iron maker, from the clearing
  • John F. Kennedy – God favors ol’ ugly head
  • Lyndon B. Johnson – Son of the one God favors, from the hill with the lime tree on it
  • Richard M. Nixon – The powerful ruler, son of the ruler of the people
  • Gerald R. Ford – Brave spear, from the river crossing
  • Jimmy Carter – He who seizes by the heel, the wagon driver
  • Ronald Reagan – Furious but wise counsel
  • George H. W. Bush – The farmer who lives by the shrub
  • Bill Clinton – Helmet of the will, from the town on the bright stream
  • George W. Bush – The farmer who lives by the shrub
  • Barack Obama – The blessed, bent one

God favors ol’ ugly head

Origins

The most common origin for first name is Hebrew. The most common for last names is English. Combining the two, we get:
  • Hebrew – 18
  • English – 18
  • German – 15
  • Greek – 8
  • Dutch, Irish, Latin – 4
  • African – 2
  • Aramaic, Celtic, Norse, Scottish, Welsh, Slav (Polk, believe it or not) – 1

Camp bear

The most popular first name is James, with six instances. The most popular name where the two presidents are not related is Johnson. So, I’m thinking if your name is James Johnson, you really ought to consider running.


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