Heptune presents:

Heptune's Baby Names for April, 2000

Names of the US Presidents, Part I: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison

by Brenna Lorenz

    A lot of babies are named after United States presidents, especially today, where we see girls called Madison, McKinley, Kennedy, Taylor and Tyler. So we thought we'd go through the whole list of presidential names, and see how (and if) they are used as baby names.

    George Washington was our first president, and by virtue of his position as number one, has received a lot of good press. Many places have been named after him, including a state and the District of Columbia. The surname comes from Old English roots meaning "the victorious hunters' settlement." Here we have a place name being used as a surname, and the surname going on to name more places. The name was popular as a first name for both black and white American boys during the 19th Century, and was found in both the north and south United States. The earliest Washington in my records is a white male born in Massachusetts in 1782. I have not found a single instance of Washington having been used as a girl's name. Although there is some early 20th Century usage of the name, especially among African Americans, it has fallen out of favor and one almost never sees it in modern birth records.

    John Adams was our second president, and his son, John Quincy Adams, was our sixth president. The father was an unpopular president, little better than a dictator, who suppressed freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and almost derailed our democracy in its infancy. The son was considerably more appealing. The name is English, and means "son of Adam." It has never been particularly popular as a baby name. A boy named Adams born in Virginia in 1722 was obviously not named after the presidents. A Massachusetts boy born in 1800 almost certainly was named after John Adams; this was the election year in which Adams was running against Thomas Jefferson, to whom he lost the election. New England was a stronghold of Federalism, the party of Adams. A boy born on Guam in 1982 was probably not named after the presidents. I have never found this name used for girls.

    Thomas Jefferson was our brilliant, eccentric third president and writer of the Declaration of Independence. He rolled back a lot of Adams's repressive acts, and got democracy back on track again. His surname is an English name meaning "son of Jeffrey." Here we see a name that was very popular for boys during both the 19th and the 20th Centuries, among both whites and African Americans. It continues in moderate use to this day. Although the name is used overwhelmingly more often for boys than for girls, a white girl born in Arkansas in 1889 was named Jefferson, and a girl named Jeffersonia was born in Alabama in 1842. The name seems to be more popular in the South than in the North.

    James Madison, our shy little fourth president, was a moderately popular man whose surname was used to name at least fourteen American cities and towns. The name is English and means "son of Maud." A look at the usage of the name shows us that it enjoyed some popularity as a boy's name, particularly in the South, from the early 1800s to the present. The earliest occurrence I have found of Madison as a girl's name is a girl born in 1966 in Guam. During the late 1980s and 1990s, it has burgeoned into popularity in the United States as a girl's name, and is even used in Australia.


Diminutive: Wash


Variation: Adamson


Variations: (m) Jefferies, Jeffers, Jefferys, Jeffries, Jeffrys
Variation: (f) Jeffersonia
Diminutives: Jeffie, Jeffy


Variations: (f) Maddison, Madyson
Variation: (m) Maderson, Madsen

Go to next month's names: Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison.
Go to last month's names: Jade, Jawahar, Tama, Aruna
Return to Heptune's Journal of Lore and Levity!
Return to Heptune's Baby Names Central.
Check out Names from the Ocean!
Read about A Tragedy Told in Names.
Check out Names in Early Jazz and Blues.

Published 4/1/00.