For some reason this afternoon I started thinking about the first names of the presidents of the United States.
I wasn't even thinking about Mitt or Newt. Honest. I try not to think about them every chance I get.
No, I think I was thinking about Franklin Pierce, although I have no idea why, since I doubt I've ever thought about him except maybe in 11th grade history, taught by the worst and most memorable teacher I ever had, Big Mrs. White. Although to be honest about it, probably the only thing I remember from 11th grade history was Big Mrs. White (I'm told Little Mrs. White was an excellent teacher).
Back to Franklin Pierce. I thought about him and how ironic it was that there was another president named Franklin, and then I started thinking about all the different first names presidents of the United States have had, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Wikipedia, making a list.
It turns out (thank you Wikipedia) that there have been 43 guys who at some point or another were presidents of you know where. Out of these 43 guys, 20 of them had names unique unto themselves. And it would be 22, or more than half, if Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson weren't both named Thomas.
In case you're wondering, James is the most common first name, with a big bouncing 6 and then there's John with 4 and George and William tied with 3, and Thomas and Andrew and of course Franklin at 2.
We've had more presidents named Millard than we've had named Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Paul or Mary. One Grover (elected twice) but no Robert. Yes to Dwight, no to David. Hooray for Harry, but hisses for Henry (unless you think of William Henry Harrison as having two first names and I don't). Hello Chester, goodbye Charlie.
Heck. Even if Ulysses Grant got elected president under his original first name, Hiram, he'd still be the only Simon. No Harolds or Harveys.
(We will not discuss the lack of Marys and Lindas and Susans and Hilarys, or why there's a Gerald but no Geraldine, since I choose not to screech in public).
Because of my intellectual curiosity (a friend of mine told me I had that, and I've been enchanted by the thought ever since), I decided to figure out if this quirky name business was more a recent development (in my admittedly lengthy life, there've been 7 presidents with names all their own, and 4 that had to share, of which, sadly, 2 were George). So I whipped out my cute little calculator (kept by the desk so I can determine how much of my money goes to me and how much to my agent), and I subtracted 1789 (our first George) from 2012 (the one and only Barack). I got 223 (I know because I just did again to make sure). I divided it by 2, which is 111.5, in case you're too lazy to get your own calculator.
Now comes the truly terrifying part. I subtracted that 111.5 from 2012, and discovered that the United States Of America reached the halfway mark in presidents in 1900.
I know the Declaration of Independence was 1776, and if you use that as a starting off point, then the halfway mark is securely in the 19th century, where it belongs. But if you scoff at the Revolution and those silly Articles of Confederation, which I never actually learned about because Big Mrs. White didn't teach us that stuff, then the halfway mark is 1900, the very start of the very century at least one of us was born in.
A little more than half (11 to be accurate about it) of the independently named presidents postdate 1900, so it's not all that decisive a factor. Let's hear it for Zachary and Rutherford and Grover.
My guess is there's a reason why so many presidents have had quirky first names. There's certainly a reason why so many have had boring last ones, but that moves me too close to screeching territory.
Hmmm. Now that I think about it, the other most important elected position in the United States, American Idol, has also had its share of unique names. From memory (which I couldn't do with presidents, because I can never remember Rutherford B. Hayes), they are Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin,
David, Kris, Lee, and Scotty.
Forget Mitt and Newt (and how I wish I could). Let's hear it for President Fantasia!