In all the analysis of John Kerry's selection of John Edwards as his running mate, the so-called experts completely overlooked one all-important question about the impact of this choice on the U.S. electorate: Could the Democratic ticket help restore the name "John" to its once preeminent position in American nomenclature?
I became a John when John was big. In 1963, the year I was born, John was tied for second place on the list of most popular names given to infants, according to the Social Security Administration's Baby Names Web site. But now, John's just a Johnny-come-lately. Over the last four decades, it has fallen precipitously in the rankings -- to seventh in 1980 (despite the presidential candidacy of John Connally; but then, he was the man who famously spent $1 million to win one delegate to the GOP convention that year), 11th in 1990 and ultimately to the relatively lowly position of No. 17 in the most recent rankings, from 2003.
As a father of girls only, I have been unable personally to help stem this decline. And if I were to be so tempted, I need only recall the famous warning issued by a fellow John (i.e., Cash) about what happens if you name a boy Sue. I wouldn't want any female namesake of mine to come gunning for me.
John has been a popular name throughout history, of course -- we've had John the Baptist, John Adams, John Lennon, John Doe, King John, Little John and many a Dear John, to name just a few. But it was the election of the first JFK that pushed it to the top of the U.S. charts in the 1960s, according to Linda Murray, the executive editor of BabyCenter.com, a Web site for new parents.
However, Murray (whose authority on the subject is boosted by having a father named John) says that politicians don't inspire baby names as much anymore, because politicians don't inspire Americans anymore. In a 2001 BabyCenter.com survey, only 0.02 percent of expecting couples said that political figures would influence their choice of name. Politicians as moniker models came in dead last, behind musicians, sports figures, movie characters, even artists. Seems people would rather name their children Vincent or Jackson than, say, George.
The name George, in fact, has actually become less popular over the course of the Bush administration -- sliding from 129th to 137th place. The president, though, hasn't had as bad a term as his running mate when it comes to names. Richard slumped from 68th place in 2000 to 86th. But Murray surmises that the name's steady decline (it was No. 5 in the 1930s) may be less a reflection of the vice president's popularity than of parental concern about a certain diminutive and future schoolyard teasing. On the other hand, Murray does think that new parents might take a cue from presidential progeny: Witness Jenna's move from 65th to 55th place during the Bush daughter's term as first twin.
And, despite the unpopularity of politicians, Murray does believe that there could be a significant John bounce in the event of a Kerry-Edwards victory in November. She explains that in the years after my birth certificate was filed, John fell out of favor because it was too ubiquitous. And since then, the name's comeback has been stymied by the recent surge in popularity of its usurping doppelganger, Jack. But Murray says that traditional names that get pushed out of the top 10 but don't disappear completely are primed for an outside event to propel them back into the big time.
Does John Kerry know this? To his credit, he didn't try to pander nomenclaturally to the voters by choosing Joe (No. 6) Biden to share the ticket with him. Still, there's reason to believe that any potential running mate's first name was an important criterion for him. After all, he didn't choose Dick Gephardt, either. And remember whom his first choice supposedly was. That's right -- John McCain.
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