Print Project Proposal: All the Presidents’ Names

For my print project, I propose an analysis of the names used to refer to presidents, and how that may have changed over time. In many cases, American presidents have nick-names or abbreviations that the public uses to refer to them, regardless of if they use it in their personal lives. I hypothesize that presidents go by their full names early on in their careers, but then more colloquial monikers rise in popularity later in their careers, or even after it entirely. I also think that it is likely that a more popular news source would be more inclined to use a nick-name than an academic source. I think this has many implications regarding the public’s perception of presidents before and after they hold office.

Therefore, I plan to use both Google NGram and the Time Magazine Corpus to track the uses of nick-names and abbreviations of presidents’ names over time. Using both of these programs in tandem will help to highlight trends, as well as provide context for how they are being used. For example, if historians use a name that was not used by a president’s contemporaries, these tools would show that. Moreover, I would only look at presidents who have served since 1923, because that is when Time Magazine was first published. 

The names I hope to track are

  1.  Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. FDR 
  2. Dwight vs. Ike Eisenhower
  3. John F. Kennedy vs. JFK
  4. Lyndon B. Johnson vs. LBJ
  5. George vs. George H.W. vs. George W. Bush
  6. Joseph vs. Joe Biden

As an example, here is a very preliminary search of John F. Kennedy and JFK, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and FDR.

In both cases it is immediately evident that abbreviations for their names rose in popularity after they were no longer in office (which in these specific cases also means after they died). I hope to dig deeper into this phenomenon and its implications.

In addition to collecting this data, I will also read historiographical sources to try and understand the trends that I might find. Overall, I think this project will elucidate trends in public sentiment towards presidents, as well as trends in public understanding of who they are. 

3 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: All the Presidents’ Names”

  1. Katie, this seems like a very interesting idea! I would be very curious to read this article and see what your findings are. I am also curious about tracking monikers such as “Honest Abe,” “Tricky Dick,” “Old Hickory,” “His Accidency,” “Great Sphinx,” etc. I think it would also be interesting to see when people used monikers that represented the presidents personalities. My hypothesis is that these nicknames would have been used during the presidency more often than after, but who knows!

    Alas, I just remembered that you are only tracking monikers post 1923, so some of my suggestions are unviable. However, I’m sure each president since 1923 likely has either an endearing or demeaning nickname, so maybe there’s some hope in the idea.

  2. I think this is such an interesting idea as it shows how the public and the media referred to those presidents. It would be interesting if you could find a database and/or another digital history tool that went further back in time than 1923. In this way, you could track other president’s names and nicknames, such as people calling John Tyler “His Accidency” or Martin Van Buren “Old Kinderhook.”

  3. Hi Katie,

    This is an absolutely fascinating idea for a project. I would never have thought of it, but already the n-gram charts you have generated are raising interesting questions. As you get into this, it would also be interesting to look for any nicknames, or any derogatory terms that get used for them to see if those show up on the charts or in trends in any significant ways over time.
    I think your overall approach of building the lists of names and nicknames and then checking them against n-gram and the time magazine corpus makes a lot of sense. The idea of then following that up with work to delve into some of their individual biographies and histories to surface some theories of how/why these trends may have emerged makes a lot of sense too. All around great concept!

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