It’s generally been my belief that people that hold public office should be given the respect of the office, even if I don’t care for their politics. I never referred to Bill Clinton as “Slick Willie” or “Billy Jeff” and I refuse to refer to our current president as Dubya (much less “Shrub” or “George Dubya/W”). I opt for Clinton, Former President Clinton, Bush, President Bush, or least formally GWB. The only time I may use a first name is if I am differentiating Bill Clinton from his wife or George W. Bush from his father. Even then I will often opt for The President for GWB and President Clinton for Bill Clinton. If referring to Former President Bush I opt for “Former President Bush,” “George H. Bush”.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when there are two people that are Former President Bush. I might go with the technically inaccurate Jr vs Sr, Bush 41 vs Bush 43, or George H. Bush versus George W. Bush. Here’s the thing, though, I don’t like saying the letter “W”. It’s three syllables for one blasted letter and I hate it. I don’t know why he couldn’t have simply gone by George Walker Bush (fewer syllables)or why his parents couldn’t have given him the Herbert name too so that it would be George Herbert Walker Bush and I could use Junior and Senior accurately. I say this as someone that is the fourth in the William _______ Truman line, but at least we all go by different names — William, Allen, Bill, and Will. If I have a son named William, you can bet we aren’t going to call him “Will” or any of the above names. Why make it so blasted confusing? They can go to the trouble of giving John Ellis Bush the nickname Jeb but nothing except that blasted three-syllable letter?

All of this brings me to the woman most likely (in my estimation) to be the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton. It’s not always easy to differentiate between Clintons so there is the natural tendency to want to drift towards refering to them by their first name. It’s a tendency that I avoid for the aforementioned reasons, going instead for Senator Clinton, Hillary Clinton, or HRC.

Some people are concerned that people are calling her Hillary because she’s female and there is an implied familiarity or lack of respect. I think that it’s mostly a matter of their being two relevent Clintons. If Jeb Bush were running, he’d likely be Jeb (but not to me! Jeb Bush is two syllables, one fewer than W and easily shortened to Jebbush in my mind… kinda like Jackbauer whose names are almost always both said on the TV show 24 in the first couple of seasons). Ironically, her main defense against too much implied familiarity (and thus lack of formality and by extention respect) is that she doesn’t come across as a particularly warm person.

On the other hand, her likely opponent is almost certain to have a first-name friendly name and style. Mitt Romney is generally referred to as Romney rather than Mitt, but I could see people opting for the quirky familiar name rather than the less usual last name. But Rudy Guiliani is very frequently referred to only as Rudy even though there is little confusion over who you might be referring to if you say “Guiliani” (though it’s not necessarily easy to pronounce and whose name I had to look up the spelling of). Fred Thompson doesn’t even have the odd last name, but like Guiliani his website mentions his first name but not his last.

The only national campaign I can remember in my lifetime wherein the first name was so emphasized would be that of Lamar Alexander’s “Lamar!” campaign from 1996, which was ditched with his flannel when he ran again in 2000. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kennedy brothers relied more on their first names than their last, though the rationale for that is pretty obvious.

Prior to that, though, Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt are more commonly referred to by their initials than their first name, even though the former has a very unique one.

If marketing is often geared towards the least common denominator, I suppose that retail politics is the same. Clinton and Bush both got by with their folksy charm. I wonder if the future beholds parties looking for candidates wherein you do want to call them by their first name because they come across as so familiar. Me? I’d prefer a president wherein my instinct is to refer to him or her as Mr. or Madame President rather than Bob or Jane.

Addendum: I forgot about what should have been an obvious example. If I recall, one of Harry Truman’s slogans was “Give’em Hell, Harry!” It was said by people too Truman, but even so that counds as an informality given that he was the President of the United States.

Category: Newsroom

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6 Responses to Let’s Keep This On a Last-Name Basis

  1. Peter says:

    One naming practice I greatly dislike is the way so many politicians refer to themselves by their nicknames rather than by their real names. For instance, 27 state governors use nicknames for almost all purposes, with their real names mostly used just for signing official documents. It seems to me that high-ranking politicians should retain a certain degree of dignity, which among other things means that nicknames should be limited to family and other strictly informal purposes.

  2. trumwill says:

    What do you mean by nickname? Do you just mean like “Skip” or do you think that Bill Clinton should have been William Clinton?

  3. Webmaster says:

    Actually the habit of “nicknaming” politicians goes back a long way… not just in America, but pretty much all over the world. Sometimes they’re flattering nicknames given by their supporters, sometimes unflattering nicknames given by their enemies.

  4. trumwill says:

    Define “nickname”. Are we talking about “Honest Abe”, “Skip”, or “Bill”?

    I figure that things like “Slick Willie” aren’t new. I don’t like derisive and disrespectful terminology regardless of how far back (or wide) it runs. I guess that something like “Honest Abe” or Tippacanoe or Ike are okay when used by their boosters as a sort of slogan. But the simple using of first names… Hillary, Rudy, Fred, etc… does that also run back as well? I’m not as aware of it doing so except the periodic use of things like Ronnie or whatever, but my knowledge of American history starts diminishing before the start of the 20th century.

  5. Webmaster says:

    All of the above, really.

    “Honest Abe” is a good nickname. Over in the middle east, most of their politicians/rulers are “Abu this” and “Abu that”, with “Abu” meaning “Father” in arabic.

    Of course, you have to remember that “last names” are something of a recent invention altogether; many of them are permutations of “X-son”, literally “son of X”, or else are the names of someone’s occupation (hunter, fisher, blacksmith, farmer, in whatever language you choose). Kings and royalty were never referred to by last name (It’s King Henry, not King Tudor). Of course, if you were speaking of them in the presence of someone who had connections, the honorific was needed, but I’m sure it could lapse considerably otherwise.

    Is it disrespectful to use a nickname like “tricky Dick” or “slick Willie”? Absolutely. Is it going to stop? Not in a million years.

  6. trumwill says:

    Is it going to stop? Not in a million years.

    You mean that I can’t change the world with this little blog? How disappointing! 🙂

    Regarding the last names, I’m looking specifically at American culture. Last names or generally a formality and first names imply intimacy. If it were our tradition to have President George and President John and so on, it’d be a non-issue. The main point I was getting at was that I prefer that office-holders be referred to more formally.

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