Presidential Names: A Global Tour
Today's presidential election, Barack vs. Mitt, is the least traditional name showdown in American presidential history. But by this point, every American has heard both of those names a little too often for them to retain much impact. (If you live in a battleground state, make that much too often.)
For an election day change of pace, allow me to direct your attention outside our borders, to a few of the most intriguing names of political leaders around the world.
The name of Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, epitomizes a difference in the use of "meaning names" among Christian, English-speaking Africans vs. Americans. American parents aim toward images of power or transcendence, and generally stick to nouns. (Destiny, Miracle, Messiah.) Those rules go double for boys. African parents, meanwhile, are more likely to dip into adjectives and verbs, and to choose imagery of affection and joy. (Precious, Gracious, Rejoice.)
Brazilian president Dilma Vana Rousseff was named for her mother Dilma da Silva, whose parents were ranchers of Portuguese descent. The name Dilma has been heard occasionally in various languages, but to the best of my knowledge isn't strictly a "traditional name" in any. Perhaps Ms. Rousseff's grandparents just liked the glamorous way it meshed with da Silva.
This Dutch surname became a distinctly American given name, thanks to two U.S. presidents. Yet Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has extended Roosevelt's political bona fides to his Caribbean island nation of Dominica. The name doesn't seem to be out of the ordinary in Dominica, given that President Skerrit's biography notes that he served as the nation's Minister of Education following the death of the previous Minister, Roosevelt Douglas.
There is nothing surprising in the given name of Moldovan Prime Minister Vladimir Filat. Vladimir is a familiar name in Moldova and neighboring nations. The intriguing part is how Mr. Filat seems to present himself to the public with the nickname Vlad. That informality has become common among male politicians in the U.S. and U.K., but less so in Eastern Europe (consider Russia's Vladimir Putin).