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Hail to the Chief - Presidential Nicknames

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Contents

Introduction

On November 4, 2008, the citizens of the United States of America will have selected a new president to lead their country for the next four years. At the time of this article, the candidacy will have been a long and hard-fought battle between the two nominees, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

But after finding out the winner of this battle, the next hard-hitting and culturally “important” question arrives – what will his nickname be?

Sometime after November 4, 2008, the winner of the contest will be subjected to the time-honored tradition of receiving what will be (most likely) an unflattering yet revealing aspect of his personality. So that each of them knows what they could be in for, let’s take a look at what some of the previous American presidents have been called by their adoring media and general populace.

Initials and Common Nicknames

While not technically a nickname, there have been a number of presidents who were simply referred to by their initials. Well-known examples include “JFK” for John F. Kennedy, “FDR” for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and “LBJ” for Lyndon Baines Johnson. Presumably, these initialed nicknames were simpler and more convenient to use for those presidents that were called by their first, middle, and last names.

As an aside, you could also include “W” as an initialed nickname for George Bush Junior as a means of differentiating between him and his father who was also a president of the United States. Although depending on how you say it ("Dubya"), this nickname can be heard as a lazy and uneducated way of saying the letter “w”, in contrast to Bush’s Harvard education and seen as a jab at his reputation for being not the most intelligent president. [1]


Similar to the initialed nickname, some presidents were called by the Average Joe’s nickname. For example, James Carter was called never referred to as “James”, only as “Jimmy” <add reference>, and Eisenhower was often called “Ike”, either as a shortened version of his last name, [1] or perhaps because it was called his parents’ nickname for him. [1][1]

More Endearing Nicknames…

In the clashing worlds of politics and media, the latter is not content to use mere initials and ordinary nicknames. Sometimes, endearing nicknames will stick based on certain words or phrases that the president used, or by some of their character traits.

One notable example is Ronald Reagan who led the United States from 1981-1989.[1] Before he became president, Reagan was a movie actor. In one of his movies, Knute Rockne, All American, Reagan played a character called George “The Gipper” Gipp.[1] During Reagan’s election campaigns, he referred to this character with his phrase “Win one for the Gipper” which ultimately led to his presidential slogan and nickname, “The Gipper”. [1]

“Give 'Em Hell Harry” became both a campaign and a nickname for Harry S. Truman. This was in response referring to when a supporter “a supporter during his 1948 election campaign yelled out, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!". Truman replied, "I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."[1] Subsequently, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" became a lifetime slogan for Truman supporters.” [1] This nickname (or slogan) was also referenced in the 1975 movie called Give 'em Hell, Harry! [1][1]

The 16th president of the United States, Republican Abraham Lincoln, was affectionately known as "Honest Abe" based on his reputation for, well, being honest. This nickname is said to have originated when Lincoln was a young man. originating as early as in the 1830's. He was there reputed to have, on several occasions, returned money to customers who accidentally overpaid him. [1] [1] He cemented the positive attributes of this nickname through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (which freed slaves in states not yet under Northern control). [1]

… And Less Endearing Nicknames

Of course, the media is not content to treat presidents with respect at all times. Just like the endearing nicknames, less endearing (or maybe “raunchy” is a better word) ones have and will continue to be used.

One prime example was one of Richard Nixon’s nicknames. Based on a combination of his dirty tricks used during his 1950 Senate campaign and a twist on a typical nickname for “Richard”, the media kindly bestowed upon him the nickname of "Tricky Dick". [1]

President Bill Clinton also encountered the same naming convention as Richard Nixon. The threesome (one word) of his evasive yet charming ways, the use of “Willie” as a variation of “Bill”, and finally his ability to avoid having any illegal allegations stick [1], led to Clinton receiving the apt name of “Slick Willie”. [1]

Earlier leaders were not immune to the media's derision. Rutherford B. Hayes, who presided over the American public from 1877 to 1881 [1] is one such example. Apparently, he was a straight-laced man who did not smoke, drink, or gamble. This lead led to the emasculating nickname of “Granny Hayes”. [1]

Grover Cleveland received a more macabre nickname. Before he became president, Cleveland was a sheriff of Erie County (which contained Buffalo in its region) in New York [1] where he personally hanged two men for their crimes. You could say that this is one man you did not want to cross. This led to his nickname of “Hangman of Buffalo”. [1]

Grover Cleveland received a more macabre nickname. Before he became president, Cleveland was a sheriff of Erie County (which contained Buffalo in its region) in New York [1] where he personally hanged two men for their crimes. You could say that this is one man you did not want to cross. This led to his nickname of “Hangman of Buffalo”. [1]

Looking to the Future

Senators Obama and McCain have campaigned tirelessly for months in the hopes of achieve the highest level of government in the United States. Maybe they should consider creating their own nicknames before the media gets there first!

NOTES

Author: Noelle Y. Lee

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