Heptune presents:

Heptune's Baby Names for May, 2000

Names of the U.S. Presidents, Part II: Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison

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. We started last month with Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

    Our fifth president was the somewhat mysterious James Monroe. Not much is known about his family or upbringing. He was well-liked and popular, ushering in the Era of Good Feeling, and he established the Monroe doctrine which is in use to this day. Monroe is a Scots Gaelic surname meaning "from the mouth of the River Roe." The name enjoyed a modest popularity during the 19th century as a boy's name in the South, and showed up sporadically during the 20th century. I have not seen it used as a girl's name, although the names Monra, and Monria might be feminine forms of it. These are both 20th C names.

Our sixth president was John Quincy Adams. See April names for a discussion of the Adams surname.

The seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was a wild and wildly popular man who defeated John Quincy Adams in their second face-off in 1828. Jackson was a military hero, a slave owner and a persecutor of Native Americans. His surname is an English name meaning "son of Jack." Jack was the English version of Jacques, the French form of Jacob. Jackson has been a popular given name for boys since Andrew Jackson's presidency. My earliest examples of the name come from the South from the 1830s and are found most commonly among white people of the time. It continues to be fairly common to the present day for both whites and African Americans. I have only one example of a girl named Jackson, born in Illinois in 1995.

Our eighth president was cheerful, crafty, ambitious little Martin Van Buren. From New York, he formed a rather odd alliance with Andrew Jackson, and was Jackson's vice-president. He was one of the first US presidents for whom slavery became an issue, to which he responded by compromising in an attempt to appease both the North and the South. His surname is a Dutch name meaning "from the small cottage." Not surprisingly, this surname has never been popular as a given name. A baby born in Alabama in 1837, the first year of Van Buren's presidency, was named Vanburen, and a baby named Vanburin was born in Louisiana in 1936, during the presidential campaign. A Tennessee baby born in 1831 was named Vanburen, possibly in honor of Van Buren as vice-president. Other authors have documented slaves named Van Buren from this time period. Thus, it would appear that a few contemporary children were named specifically for Martin Van Buren, and then the name vanished from use as a first name.

Our ninth president was William Henry Harrison, who served as president for all of one month, dying in office from an illness he caught during his long-winded inaugural address. He is perhaps best known today for his campaign slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," Tippecanoe being the name of the locality of one of Harrison's military victories. We also have a second president with the surname Harrison, this being Benjamin Harrison. He was our 23rd president, a cold, patriarchal figure who served one term starting in 1889. The surname is an English name meaning "son of Harry." My earliest record of Harrison as a first name comes from Alabama in 1838. Harrison had run unsuccessfully for president two years previously, and he was already established as a war hero at this time, so this baby might have been named after him. Another Harrison was born in Virginia in 1840, during the presidential campaigns, and another was born in Massachusetts in 1844, a few years after Harrison's death. A couple of boys named Harrison were born in the late 1840s; one of these was a slave. All of these were likely to have been named after the ill-fated president. The name has been considerably more popular during the 20th Century for both African Americans and whites. It continues in use to the present day. Our most famous modern Harrison is the actor, Harrison Ford, and there is a good chance that babies named Harrison now are named in honor of the actor rather than either of the two presidents. I have found no examples of girls named Harrison.


Variations: (m) Monro, Munro, Munroe, Munrose
Variations: (f) Monra, Monria


Variations: Fijian: Jekesoni

Van Buren:

Variations: Vanburen, Vanburin

Go to last month's names: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison.
Go to next month's names: Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore.
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 4/30/00.