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Heptune's Baby Names for December, 2000

Names of the Presidents, Part VI: Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft

by Brenna Lorenz

    A lot of babies are named after United States presidents, especially today, where we see girls called Madison, 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 in April with Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, continued in May with Presidents Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, and Harrison, in June with Tyler, Polk, Taylor, and Fillmore, in October with Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln and Johnson, and in November with Grant, Hayes, Garfield and Arthur.

Following a very tight, contentious race in 1884, Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected president of the United States, defeating James G. Blaine. He is unique in being the only US president to have served two non-consecutive terms. He was defeated in his bid for reelection by Benjamin Harrison, who was defeated in turn by Cleveland in the following election in 1892. The surname Harrison has already been discussed, and will not be treated further here. The surname Cleveland comes from Old English roots meaning "cliff land." The name became fairly common as a first name for boys, especially among African-Americans, during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and has remained in steady use since then. I have found no record of the name being given to babies from before the time of Cleveland's presidency. The usage of the name does appear to have been inspired by President Grover Cleveland.

Republican William McKinley took over the White House in 1896, and was reelected to a second term in 1900. He was assassinated late in 1901 during his second term in office. During his presidency, he presided over the Spanish-American War. His surname is a Scots Gaelic patronymic meaning "son of Fionnlaoch, the white warrior." According to my records, the name was popular for boys from 1897 through 1902, and then usage became sporadic. It was particularly popular among African-Americans. The period of usage corresponds well with McKinley's presidency, and there can be little doubt that the name was used in commemoration of the President.

With the death of President McKinley, the presidency passed to Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who at 42 became our youngest ever president. A wild, strong-willed and eccentric character, he was elected to a term of his own in 1904. He reluctantly gave up the office in 1908, and his attempts to regain it from Taft in 1912 created a three-way race that enabled Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election. His surname is Dutch, and means "rose field." Theodore Roosevelt shares the surname with the later president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, distinguished for bringing the United States out of the Depression, presiding over our involvement in World War II, and being elected to four terms in office. Both Roosevelts were very popular. The name surged into use as a given name when Theodore Roosevelt became president and has remained strong since. Although usually given to boys, it has also been used as a girl's name. Its usage is most prevalent in the African-American community. Cab Calloway, the great band leader and vocalist, sang a song called "Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones," about a baby named after the second President Roosevelt.

In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt had promised that he would not run for reelection in 1908. He gave his blessings to William Howard Taft, who won the election in 1908 and then suffered a miserable term trying unsuccessfully to please his mentor. Taft was the heaviest man to have served as president of the United States. His surname comes from a Middle English root meaning "homestead." Although the name has been used very sporadically during the 20th Century as a boy's name, the usage patterns do not seem to tie in with the President.


Variations: Cleaveland, Clevland


Variations: McKinly, McKinnley, McKinnly


Variations: Rosavelt, Rosevelt, Rozvel

Go back to November's names: Grant, Hayes, Garfield and Arthur.
Go to January's names: Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
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 11/30/00.


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