Sunday, 1 July 2012

US Presidents: Born to lead?

"Some men are born to lead and others have........", well however it went it got me wondering if this was actually true. Whilst social standing would give the child a head start, does the family name or title play any part?

Taken in chronological order, we start with George Washington whose ancestral home is at Sulgrave in Northamptonshire but a surname from the northeast of England describing 'the farmstead associated with a man called Wassa'. Not the best basis for the most powerful man in the world.

John Adams is predictably 'son of Adam' and ultimately from adama the Hebrew word meaning 'earth' and a reminder that the Greek god Zeus is said to have fashioned man from the earth. This could certainly be seen as a man of the people, salt of the earth, and a potential vote winner.

Thomas Jefferson is, again predictably, the 'son of Jeffrey' or Jeufroi when it first came to English shores via the Normans. It is also possibly this is Geoffrey, in which case this is a variant of Godfrey and a name meaning 'peaceful ruler', and certainly an image a politician would hope to project.

James Madison, a name meaning 'son of Maud', a German short form of Matilda which itself means ''strength in battle' and certainly a name which suggests strong leadership.

James Monroe is certainly a Scottish name but one which came to Scotland from Ireland some time during the twelfth century. Here there are two possible Gaelic origins, Maolruadh being 'the red haired tonsured one' or less likely 'a man from the River Roe' in County Derry.

Andrew Jackson clearly 'the son of Jack or Jacques', the christian name is ultimately from the ancient Hebrew Yochanan, itself telling how 'Jehovah has favoured me (with a son)'. Not a particular strong meaning although it could be argued the two strong syllables make the meaning irrelevent.

Martin Van Buren the eighth president takes his name from the Dutch town, thus telling us the family were 'of Buren' in Holland, itself thought to describe 'the dweller in the inner room'. Again not the strongest of meanings for a leader.

William Harrison is, rather predictably, 'the son of Harry, or Henry'. However the name Henry shares its derivation with Heinrich, a German name meaning 'the ruler in the home' and could be seen to be a strong name, in the sense of 'ruler', and also a weakness in only ruling of a few.

John Tyler's family bestowed upon him a name which is a trade name, the 'tiler' is seen in Latin tigele and Norman French tuilier. Hardly an inspirational name, unless the roof of the nation is leaking.

James Polk is an unusual name from one of the Slav nations with an origin speaking of 'the man of Poland'. Doubtless those of Polish descent will find this of interest but it would hardly have universal appeal outside of Poland.

Millard Fillmore at last has a name which may well earmark him for leadership from the day he was baptised. However this is entirely dependent upon this being derived from an Old English christian name, in which case it really does mean 'very famous'.

Franklin Pierce, a name which is derived from the christian name Peter through the French Piers. While this may appeal to Peters everywhere, or even the religious by association with St Peter, it would not be enough to swing an election in his favour.

It is no surprise to find the surname of James Buchanan to be of Old Scottish origin. It is an old place name from Stirlingshire and comes from Gaelic buth Chanain and describes 'the house of the canon' and thus also having religious connections. It seems unlikely the combination of religion and Scotland would be enough to get a person elected.

Universally known as 'Honest Abe', that would certainly have been enough to get Abraham Lincoln elected, however he did not earn that name until around the end of his term of office. His surname is a place name, one derived from the city near the east coast of England, which speaks of 'the Romany colony by the pool'. This is an odd place name for the 'pool' is actually a part of the River Witham which broadens out and is not an actual pool in the accepted sense, while the idea of busy colonists is also incorrect for this was a place set aside for retired legionaires. While the Roman idea might be a vote winner, if the electorate knew this was a retirement colony they might not be so keen to place a cross alongside the name.

Andrew Johnson a name which is clearly 'the son of John' and one where we can go a little further and look at the origins of the christian name. Ultimately this is Hebrew Yochanan and means 'God has favoured me (with a son). Maybe not the most popular surname with the voters.

Ulysses Grant depending whether this migrated to the US from Scottish Grant, Belgian Grand or French Legrand, this is ultimately derived from the same source as Latin graunt meaning 'tall' or alternatively 'large'. Note it was also used in medieval Europe instead of the modern 'senior', when father and son shared the same name. If this last meaning was promoted this may indeed convey the image of grand age and with it wisdom and sagacity.

Rutherford Hayes is a place name, usually one used as a suffix but also found alone, particularly for minor names. As this is fairly common it is difficult to distinguish between the three Old English origins of haes 'the place of brushwood, underbrush', horg 'the enclosure', or hege 'place with a hedge'. None seem in the least beneficial as a strong name for a leader.

James Garfield may be seen to have a name of strength, for this is Old English gara feld and 'the open land shaped as a spearhead (ie triangluar)'. Of course the association with a certain lasagne-loving feline may well detract from any other benefit of the name.

Chester Arthur clearly has a first name for a family name, one which has two possible origins and where both speak of great strength and/or leadership. If this is from Welsh, it is arth 'bear' and gwr 'hero', or if Norse from Arnthorr then arn 'eagle' and Thorr the god of thunder.

Grover Cleveland takes the name of a place in the northeast of England which comes from clif land and tells of 'the cultivated land by the cliff or bank', hardly the most stirring rally call on the hustings.

Benjamin Harrison brings no surprises at as coming from 'the son of Harry or Henry' and, as with William Harrison, ultimately from the German Heinrich meaning 'the ruler in the home' and could be seen to be a strong name, in the sense of 'ruler', and also a weakness in only ruling of a few.

The family of William McKinley had a name which has two possible sources and where Irish or Scottish combines with Norse to refer to 'the son of the white-skinned warrior'. However it is hard to see how this would influence the voters.

Franklin Roosevelt one of two presidents with this surname, the family of merchants from Holland whose Dutch name describes them as coming 'from the rose field'. Their standing in American history would seem to serve them better than the meaning of their name.

William Taft has a name which is a corruption of the Scandinavian toft, although it may be difficult to win many votes for being described as 'an outbuilding'.

Woodrow Wilson is 'the son of William' and a name which would be a potential vote winner if promoted as being introduced to the English-speaking world by William the Conqueror.

Warren Harding has a surname dating from at least the seventh century when most secondary names would describe the warrior, a god, or glorification of some powerful animal. Here the name speaks of 'the son of the hard one', which may be of benefit provided he was not seen as a troublemaker.

The ancestors of Calvin Coolidge brought the family name from Cambridgeshire, a name which describes 'the ridge or escarpment of the hill' from Old English coll ecg. Again nothing particularly stirring about the etymology of this name.

Herbert Hoover is a corruption of the original German name Huber, itself describing 'a man who owns a hube of land', this equates to anything from thirty to sixty acres (depending upon the quality of the soil) for it refers to productivity rather than area.

Theodore Roosevelt the second of this name to serve as president, coming from Holland their name is Dutch and describes them as 'from the rose field'. As previously their reputation probably stands them in better stead than the meaning.

Harry Truman possible the perfect surname for a politician for it means exactly what it says. From Middle English trewe man comes 'the faithful, trustworthy, steadfast man'. Of course this means the electorate would also have to believe him.

Dwight Eisenhower could trace his family's ancestry right back to its origins in Germany where his surname came from their trade as 'iron workers'.

John Kennedy is fairly well known to be from Irish immigrants, the name featuring two elements cinn eide which could be either 'helmeted head' or 'grim head' depending upon the source of the translation. Indeed the translation would be important if it was to be used a potential vote winner.

Lyndon Johnson as with his namesake Andrew this is from 'the son of John' and ultimately Hebrew Yochanan meaning 'God has favoured me (with a son). However the voters did not favour him with a second term of office.

Richard Nixon a name which features a shortened form of 'the son of Nicholas', it is the christian name which may do something to improve the image of a president few would argue is not the least popular in the history of the nation. Nicholas comes from two Greek words nike meaning 'victory' and laos meaning 'people', an excellent vote winner were it not for the association with 'Tricky Dicky'.

Gerald Ford was a man who famously never actually elected to either the presidency or vice-presidency. So perhaps the less than stirring origin of 'the river crossing' hardly matters.

Jimmy Carter takes his name from a trade, carters being 'transporters of goods'. Maybe the thought of transport and hard work would be seen as worthy of election. Ronald Reagan's ancestors emanated from Ireland, their surname comes from Irish riodhgach meaning 'impulsive', not exactly the best trait for a politician.

Of course both George Bush Snr and George W Bush have served terms of office, hence this would tend to suggest this surname did not do a great deal to harm the latter's campaign chances. The name is one of the oldest surnames on record, which started as referring to a place marked by a prominent bush.

Bill Clinton takes his name from a corruption of the village of Glympton in Oxfordshire or Glinton in Northamptonshire. The former describes 'the farmstead on the River Glyme' and the later 'the farmstead marked out by a fence'. Neither of these give an impression of strong leadership.

Barack Obama's family derived their name from an Arabic term meaning 'handsome, good' and, with beauty in the eye of the beholder, may be seen as immodest or boastful and not exactly a desirable trait in a leader.

In conclusion it seems the answer must be a resounding 'no', ancestry in the form of one's name does not suggest good leadership qualities. So back to rolling dice or similarly random selection process.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent list though you mixed up the Roosevelts. Teddy came before Franklin.