Presidents’ Names: You Probably Don’t Know These Facts About American Presidents, Including Donald Trump
What’s in a name? What isn’t, especially if you’re president of the United States? A president’s name is forever associated with his promises and politics, his triumphs and his failings, and even the humorous occasions on which he reminded a watching public that the president is only human. Most Americans don’t know that much about presidents’ names (there are, after all, more interesting targets for presidential trivia).
But what you may not have realized is that there are plenty of fascinating facts about presidents’ first names, last names, monograms, and nicknames. Read on to get all the most interesting details on presidents’ names — including a fascinating fact about Donald Trump’s name on page 15.
1. Harry S. Truman didn’t have a middle name
Another fun fact about presidents’ names? Harry S. Truman didn’t actually have a full middle name, just the letter “S.” Snopes reports that when Truman was born, his parents couldn’t decide what to name him. Even a month later, he still had no name. The Trumans eventually decided to name him “Harry” after his maternal uncle, whose name was Harrison.
But they couldn’t choose between a middle name honoring his maternal grandfather (Solomon Young) or his paternal grandfather (Anderson Shipp Truman). So they settled on the letter “S” by itself, since it could represent either grandfather.
Next: Many presidents had no middle names.
2. In fact, many American presidents had no middle names
Almost everybody has a middle name in the modern United States. But that’s actually a pretty recent development. Time reports that “early U.S. Presidents were two-named until John Quincy Adams. Even for decades after, presidential middle names were intermittent.” Want to know which presidents didn’t have middle names, other than Truman?
Before John Quincy Adams, we had George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. But after the second Adams came plenty more presidents without middle names. That list goes: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Next: Truman isn’t the only president with a meaningless ‘S’ in his name.
3. Ulysses S. Grant’s ‘S’ also didn’t stand for anything
Ulysses S. Grant is another president with a meaningless “S” in his name. But he did actually have a middle name. As History explains, his parents named him Hiram Ulysses Grant. He was known as Ulysses during his youth in Ohio. And the phantom middle initial came about because of an error by an Ohio congressman, who accidentally wrote Grant’s name as “Ulysses S. Grant” when nominating him to attend West Point.
Grant tried to correct the record, but the name stuck. He eventually just accepted it. He even joked in an 1844 letter to his future wife, Julia Dent, “Find some name beginning with ‘S’ for me. You know I have an ‘S’ in my name and don’t know what it stands for.”
Next: This is the most popular first name for U.S. presidents.
4. We’ve had 6 presidents named James
VeryWell Family reports that in the history of the United States, we’ve elected six presidents named James. James Madison served as the fourth president, and James Monroe as the fifth. James Polk served as the 11th president, and James Buchanan as the 15th president.
Next, James Garfield served as the 20th president. And finally, James “Jimmy” Carter served as the 39th president. Among presidential names, James is definitely the most popular!
Next: This president was the eighth man in his family to get the same name.
5. Benjamin Harrison was the 8th ‘Benjamin Harrison’ in his family
Some Americans know that Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison. But what you may not know is that Benjamin Harrison was also reportedly the eighth man named “Benjamin Harrison” in his family.
The president’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Harrison V, was born in Berkeley, Virginia, and he attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg. The family built a long history in politics, with members of the family serving in the Continental Congress, becoming state governors, and serving in the House of Representatives (as well as ascending to the Oval Office).
Next: These names are popular choices among U.S. presidents.
6. The U.S. has elected 4 presidents named John and 4 named William
More popular names for presidents? John and William. VeryWell reports that the annals of presidential history include four commanders in chief named John: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, and John Kennedy. The United States has also elected four presidents named William: William Henry Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and William “Bill” Clinton.
Next: These presidents went by their middle names.
7. Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson went by their middle names
Once middle names became popular in the United States, people also realized that they had the option of going by their middle names instead of by their first names. One president who made that choice was Calvin Coolidge, whose full name was John Calvin Coolidge, Jr.
Another president who went by his middle name? Woodrow Wilson, whose full name was Thomas Woodrow Wilson. He reportedly established the habit when he began his teaching career at Bryn Mawr College, after attending Davidson College and Princeton University as an undergraduate, going to the University of Virginia Law School, and receiving a PhD from Johns Hopkins University.
Next: Three presidents have had this name.
8. The U.S. has had 3 presidents named George, 2 of them from the same family
Most people know that the name of our very first president was George Washington. But George doesn’t quite compete with other names for repetitions throughout presidential history. There are only two other Georges who have served as president of the United States, and they both come from the same family: George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Another fun fact? George H.W. Bush remains the only president to have four names.
Next: This president went nameless for almost two months after his birth.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s parents took 7 weeks to name him
Through no fault of his own, Franklin D. Roosevelt remained nameless for almost two months of his life. According to Neatorama, Roosevelt had no name for the first seven weeks after his birth on Jan. 30, 1882. Many parents like to meet their child before choosing a name. But few parents would wait seven weeks to settle on a name!
Next: We’ve had two presidents each with these names.
10. We’ve had 2 presidents named Andrew and 2 named Franklin
Andrew is still a pretty popular name in the United States — but not so much Franklin. Interestingly enough, VeryWell reports that we’ve had two presidents each who had these names. There was Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, plus Franklin Pierce and Franklin D. Roosevelt. And while you probably know plenty of people named Andrew, there hasn’t been a president with either of those names in decades.
Next: This surprising phenomenon has happened with presidents’ last names.
11. Many presidents’ last names have become popular baby names
Speaking of names that are popular today, did you know that many presidents’ last names have become popular first names in the United States? VeryWell notes that Madison was the last name of our fourth president, James Madison. But it has also remained a top-10 name for girls for more than 20 years.
Similarly, Jackson — the last name of Andrew Jackson — has become a popular boys’ name. Tyler (as in John Tyler) was a popular name for boys at the turn of the millennium. Carter broke into the top 50 for boys’ names over the past decade. And Kennedy has seen some modest popular as a girls’ name.
Next: This president had a completely different name than the one you know for the first two years of his life.
12. Gerald Ford was named ‘Leslie’ for the first 2 years of his life
According to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, Gerald Ford had a completely different name for the first two years of his life. As the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner, he was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. His parents divorced soon after the birth of their only child. Then, his mother married Gerald R. Ford, Sr. in 1916. After that point, the future president went by the name Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
Next: This president loved nicknames.
13. George W. Bush liked to give other people nicknames
This doesn’t technically involve presidential names, but it’s just too good to leave out. George W. Bush loves creating nicknames for those around him. According to Business Insider, Bush referred to Vladimir Putin as “Ostrich Legs” or “Pootie-Poot.” He called Barack Obama “Bama” or “Rock.”
Bush also called John Boehner “Boner” and Arnold Schwarzenegger “Conan the Republican.” He called Chris Christie “Big Boy” and Karl Rove “Turd Blossom.” Bush also called Donald Rumsfeld “Rummy,” and had plenty of other nicknames for people in his administration and elsewhere.
Next: This president changed his last name.
14. Bill Clinton actually changed his last name
Most people assume that Bill Clinton was always named Bill Clinton. But as History reports, this former president was actually born “William Jefferson Blythe III.” So what’s with the change in names? As History explains, “His father died in a car accident before he was born, and young Bill later took the last name of his stepfather, Roger Clinton.” It’s not completely unheard of, but definitely isn’t common among the ranks of U.S. presidents.
Next: You may not know this fact about Donald Trump’s name.
15. Donald Trump’s family changed their last name
Donald Trump himself has never changed his name. But as Snopes reports, it’s true that the president’s ancestors at some point changed their family name from “Drumpf” to “Trump.” The Boston Globe reports that the name change happened sometime in the 1600s, while other sources have said that it occurred on Ellis Island in the 1890s. Some even claimed that it was Donald Trump’s dad who changed the spelling because of prejudice against Germans.
But as Snopes explains, “It is true Trump’s family surname was originally ‘Drumpf,’ but the exact timing of the name change still isn’t clear.” The publication adds, “At any rate, neither Trump nor his father ever bore the surname Drumpf.”
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