What’s in a Politician’s Name?

Last week, we were subjected to the latest infinitely stupid act of political pettiness: The Great Name Change Debate happening in the midst of the Texas senatorial race.

Sen. Ted Cruz released a new radio ad criticizing his Democratic opponent, Robert O’Rourke, for using his nickname, “Beto,” rather than his real name to appeal to Hispanic voters in Texas. The radio ad consists of a jingle titled, “If You’re Gonna Run In Texas” (a play on the song “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas”).

Cruz has a point here, but it’s a hypocritical one, seeing as how Cruz’s real first name is Rafael, a nod to his Cuban roots. When Cruz appeared on Chris Cuomo’s “New Day” on CNN, Cuomo pressed Cruz on this point, asking him why Cruz even bothered to go after O’Rourke if they’re both basically doing the same thing with their name changes.

All in all, it was a clear piece of political theater that entered the public consciousness this week.

However, politicians changing their names to appeal to voters is nothing new, and, looking at some of the most famous cases, it’s interesting to see how significant a politician’s name can be to their persona. So here’s a look at some interesting name changes throughout American political history:

Jeb Bush

Oh, Jeb(!). The former governor of Florida and presidential candidate’s full name is actually John Ellis Bush Sr., but he goes by Jeb instead — a combination of the first initial of each of his names.

It looks here like this was done less for political purposes than for personal ones, but it still inspired one of the best White House Correspondents’ Dinner jokes of the past decade from Cecily Strong:

“It’s kind of like if Benedict Cumberbatch decided to go by ‘Skeeter.’”

Bobby Jindal

The former Louisiana governor’s case is one of the more blatantly political ones. Jindal’s first name is actually Piyush, which means “drink that makes one immortal” in Hindi.

He reportedly adopted the nickname “Bobby” when he was a child because he enjoyed watching “The Brady Bunch.”

Jindal gets a lot of flack for this name change, but it speaks to the larger issue of young Americans who are the children of immigrants feeling out of place. What should be focused on with Jindal, however, is that ridiculous portrait that hung in his office:

Jimmy Carter

The former president’s full name is “James Earl Carter Jr.,” which is a name that sounds slightly more highfalutin than one would expect for a son of a peanut farmer from Georgia.

While he always went by “Jimmy,” Jim Moore, a professor at Pacific University, told the Statesman Journal that Carter made sure that his name appeared as “Jimmy” on the ballot when he was running in a gubernatorial race in the ‘70s, echoing his movement towards a more centrist, “man of the people” position.

And, when he was later sworn in as president by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, his nickname was used rather than his full name.

Gerald Ford

Our 38th president’s full name was Leslie Lynch King Jr. Obviously, this one is puzzling, but there’s a simple explanation: Ford was named after his biological father, but soon after his birth, Ford’s parents split, and he was later referred to as Gerald R. Ford Jr., the name of the man his mother married next.

Ford officially changed his name in 1935, so this one is actually not political at all.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney’s full name is Willard Mitt Romney–so he actually goes by his middle name. Really, there was no winning for him no matter which name he chose.

He could’ve gone by Will. Or Bill? Imagine that: Good ol’ Billy Romney. If he had not gone by “Mitt,” however, it would have saved him a lot of baseball-themed jokes about his name.

Connie Mack IV

This former Florida politician’s full name is actually Cornelius Harvey McGillicuddy, which, on the name spectrum, is somewhere between “Scrooge McDuck” and “Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo, Princess of Genovia.”

Nikki Haley

Haley’s name has actually inspired a lot of political controversy over the years in which she’s been in the national political spotlight.

Haley’s given name is actually Nimrata Randhawa. She joked back in 2010 that she changed her name because it “wouldn’t fit on a yard sign,” but the Associated Press also found that she identified as white on a voter registration card.

Peoples’ names, especially in America, are a sensitive topic. There are plenty of reasons why people change their names. It really shouldn’t matter what someone’s name is and it definitely shouldn’t determine whether people vote for them.

However, as some studies show, it does matter–so we shouldn’t expect this practice to change anytime soon. But, then again, the good people of Fort Wayne, Ind., once elected a man named “Harry Baals.” So maybe names aren’t so important after all.

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