What’s in a Middle Name?


Should Joe Biden happen to become the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, perhaps many Americans will change their middle names on Facebook to Robinette. After all, if enough people adopt the Delaware senator's unusual middle name it might put an end to ridiculous rumors that Biden is part of the North American thrush family.

The strategy of mass middle-naming was hatched by supporters of Barack Obama - mostly young people, communicating on the Internet - who have ceremoniously taken his middle name, Hussein, to deflect efforts by those inaccurately linking the senator to the Muslim faith.

"We are all Hussein," wrote blogger Jeff Strabone.

Perhaps if John McCain selects Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as his running mate, young Republicans will take up the cry "We are all Piyush." Jindal, the first Indian-American governor, retains the legal name Piyush, even though he calls himself "Bobby" after the youngest son on "The Brady Bunch" TV sitcom.

What if New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joins McCain's ticket? Will supporters start using his middle name, Rubens, to quash speculation that the mayor caters to deli lobbyists?

Is it possible that John Kerry lost his bid for the White House in 2004 due to rumors about his middle name, Forbes? Voters may have mistakenly linked Kerry to the Forbes Magazine marketing slogan, "Capitalist Tool."

Obviously the Founding Fathers recognized the peril of presidential middle names, which is why none of the first five U.S. presidents - from George Washington to James Monroe - had one. The trouble only began when John Quincy Adams, president number six, required some sort of extra moniker to distinguish him from his father, John Adams.

Over the years voter preferences shifted, and since 1909, with the election of William Howard Taft, Americans have refused to accept any president without a middle name.

Perhaps left-wing bloggers will come up with something scandalous about John McCain's middle name, forcing his supporters to all start calling themselves Sidney. Regardless, the McCain Campaign would be wise to study the cases of earlier presidents who had the middle initial "S."

Hiram Ulysses Grant, the 18th president, didn't have an S in his name until he attended West Point and came to enjoy the ring of "U.S. Grant." His buddies took to calling him "Sam," and the "S" in his name stuck. It may not be too late for John McCain to adopt a "U" name. He could pick, say, Usamah, from the Arabic, so that as John Usamah Sidney McCain, he'd be forever known as U.S. McCain.

Then there was Harry S Truman, the 33rd chief executive, whose parents were so conflicted about whether their son required a middle name in order to grow up to become president that they settled on only the initial "S" - but no actual name to go with it. That approach would fail miserably today. E-mail campaigns would certainly run wild, claiming that the candidate's name was really Harry Saddam Truman.

Google indicates there are currently 31.4 million entries for the name Hussein, and 44.5 million for the name Sidney. So, although we aren't quite all Hussein - or, as the case may be, all Sidney - it does seem that many people are, indeed, working on it.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.

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