In response to reader comments on presidential names, an extra tally:
One reader noted the decline of the classic presidential first names. Four names have been shared by three or more presidents: James, John, William and George. The simplest explanation for the dominance of these "big four" is that they are, probably, the four most common names for men across American history. ("Probably" because of sketchy data and different ways to measure.)
Even so, the concentration of these top classics among presidents is mighty high. They've accounted for over a third of the 42 men who have served as U.S. president, but just a fifth of the general male population. They're still holding strong in the White House: 5 of the of the last 10 presidents held one of the big 4 names. But look at the trend overall:
The big four aren't alone in their fall. Remember that the leadership credentials of those names actually predate the American republic. They are all names of kings of England, a list that dominated American names for generations but plummeted in the past 50 years. You'll see the same pattern in kingly names like like Edward and Charles which have never seen the oval office.
And a few brief notes:
The biggest effect of presidential names comes when the president isn't a John or James. Unconventional choices like Woodrow and Lyndon typically see big rises, whereas the more common names are barely affected.
There is one classic presidential forename that is completely American. It's a name born by two different U.S. presidents, with no kingly antecedents. (Got it yet?) It's an all-American homage, the surname of a founding father. (Now you've got it, right?) The name Franklin may not be fashionable, but it surely is presidential.
Occasionally, even losing presidential candidates have seen their surnames immortalized. Bryan rose in 1896, Hughes in 1916, Landon in 1936. Alf Landon garnered only eight electoral votes in '36 but hundreds of namesakes -- enough to make Landon the 422nd most popular boy's name of the year.
And a final follow-up, to the reader who suggested that the name Tyler might owe more to the city of Tyler, Texas than to President John Tyler. In fact, Tyler, Texas was named after John Tyler!