The 2016 presidential election has been a race like no other. You can probably think of many examples to illustrate that statement, but I have a particular one in mind: both major candidates are running under their full, long first names.
In the grand, surreal circus of this electoral season, the candidates' names may hardly register as unconventional. Yet the break from traditional political naming reflects the challenges each campaign faces in winning voters' hearts. It could even figure into the historically negative impressions voters have of the candidates.
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The time-tested recipe for a likeable political name is Nickname+Surname, preferably a familiar nickname and short surname. Nicknames come across as friendly and dependable, the name equivalent of a handshake and a smile. Think of the 1996 election of Bob Dole vs. Bill Clinton, or this year's VP nominees Mike Pence and Tim Kaine.
Most candidates in the recent primaries followed the recipe to the letter. In fact, few even allowed their legal first names to appear anywhere in their campaign literature. You're excused if you don't know the full names of John Ellis "Jeb" Bush, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, Cara Carleton "Carly" Fiorina, Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz, or James Richard "Rick" Perry.
Then there's Donald "Donald" Trump and Hillary "Hillary" Clinton. They're the first pair of formally, multisyllabically named candidates to go head-to-head since 1984, when Walter Mondale challenged Ronald Reagan.
In Trump's case, sticking to his formal name reflects two of the defining characteristics of his campaign: treating himself as a commercial brand, and refusing to take the standard steps candidates take to win elections. Most candidates present a fiery, partisan face to the primaries, then "pivot" toward the center in the general election. Trump instead doubled down on fiery. Reports also abound of his campaign dismissing the basic tools of the electoral trade: polling, mailing lists, digital outreach, local get-out-the-vote operations, and even advertising. A conventional political nickname like Don would be a hard sell to a campaign that doesn't believe in conventional political anything.
Then there's the brand. Trump has always promoted and valued his name as an asset. His own calculation of his net worth includes a $3.3 billion valuation of his name as a brand. If you believe your name is literally worth billions, you're not going to drop a single letter of it for the campaign trail.
On Clinton's side, she was boxed into a corner. Running under "Hillary" was her only real option. To start with, the name Hillary has no established nickname. As the creatively nicknamed Republican candidates show, though, you can go beyond the obvious. Imagine, say, a Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton who combined her first two names and called herself "Hildy." But after decades in the public spotlight, Hillary was far too firmly cemented as a Hillary to shift name gears.
What's more, she was stuck focusing on her first name to distinguish herself from that other presidential Clinton, Bill. (A similar challenge led Jeb Bush to campaign under the exuberant banner "Jeb!") Her campaign labels itself "Hillary for America," and her official campaign logo is a solo H.
This name situation too reflects the broader shape of a campaign. As a candidate, Hillary Clinton has been hemmed in by the history of being Hillary, and being a Clinton. Public impressions of her were already firmly formed before she even started running. In fact, her time as first lady sparked a historic drop in the popularity of the names Hillary and Hilary two decades ago. For a significant portion of the electorate, the name Hillary provokes a knee-jerk reaction and nothing she says or does can shake it.
Does the lack of nicknames matter? Would a Don vs. Hildy race be any different from Donald vs. Hillary? The fundamentals of each candidate would still apply, but the full names tend to reinforce stereotypes about each candidate. For Clinton, formality supports the caricature of her as stiff and unfriendly. For Trump, the formal name calls up the mocking title "The Donald" and the associated image of a self-aggrandizing showman. And for voters, the lack of reassuring, approachable nicknames serves as a subtle but constant reminder that this is not a normal American election.
While names like Isabella, Leo, and Arianna have become established options in the United States in recent years, plenty of Italian names have yet to conquer our shores. Let’s expand our horizons by exploring il bel paese - the beautiful country. Here are fifteen attractive names, for both boys and girls, that have yet to reach the top 1000.
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Giada. Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis brought this name to the attention of many Americans - in fact, the name had only made records once before 2003, when her cooking show first aired. Since then, Giada has caught on considerably, but it’s still far from popular. It’s similar to Gianna or Jade (its English equivalent), but Giada has an elegant flair all its own.
Carmine. A classic Italian name, alluring Carmine has been in use for centuries. The meaning relates to “bright red,” bringing the vibrant qualities of Ruby and Scarlett over to the boys’ column. The Car- beginning connects it to other names on the playground, like Carter or Carson, but Carmine is far from the top 100 - only 150 boys were given the name last year.
Desideria. Though Desiree peaked in 1983, this Italian variation brightens it up and augments its femininity and romance. Desideria offers the adorable nicknames Desi or Deri, with a substantial long form - perfect for a multitude of personalities and ages. The name has never been recorded in US lists, either, so if you’re looking for a truly unique name, you may desire Desideria!
Raffaello. While Rafael is well-rooted in the American name landscape, ornate Raffaello rearranges the pronunciation and adds some pizzazz. The name has a firm religious background as well - it comes from Hebrew, meaning “God has healed,” and is the name of one of the four archangels. The nickname Raffi tones down its complexity, but Raffaello is truly a gorgeous choice.
Elettra. Names like Elizabeth, Eliana, and Elise have become popular routes to the nickname Ellie - why not try an unexpected, dynamic option? Elettra, the Italian form of Electra, is bright and shining without seeming too ancient or scientific. It’s also become more recognizable in the US as the name of film star Ingrid Bergman’s granddaughter.
Ludovico. Consistently in the top 100 in Italy, Ludovico is one of the Italian variations of Louis, meaning “famous warrior.” Its melody and masculinity balance well, creating an enticing sound that complements a classic vibe. Ludovico also offers a plethora of nicknames, from Harry Potter-inspired Ludo to Vico or Louie.
Serafina. Another Italian name with a beautiful melody, Serafina is a marvelous name that could catch on well in the United States. It’s similar to darlings Sofia and Sabrina, but its tone is far more angelic and delicate. The seraphim are the highest-ranking group of the Christian angelic hierarchy, associated with light and purity. Alternate spelling Seraphina is another pretty choice, picked by celebrity parents Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck.
Ezio. It’s no coincidence that Ezio popped up in name records at the same time the Assassin’s Creed video games premiered - the protagonist of the game, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, has now been in more than five popular games. Meaning “eagle,” Ezio is a fantastic alternative to Ezra or Eli, with a super-cool recent history that would make any little boy proud to wear the name.
Fiammetta. Romantic and fiery, Fiammetta is a name fit for any confident little girl, from future princesses to future astronauts. It’s all over art and literature; from Bocaccio to Rossetti to Gilbert and Sullivan, Fiammetta has been inspiring. NFL player Tony Fiammetta may be the most recognizable wearer, but this “flame” of a name is a breathtaking feminine choice.
Giacomo. This Italian variation of James currently ranks at #33 in Italy, with hundreds of famous namesakes throughout history. It’s a less common alternative to Giovanni, Gianni, or even Jack - plus, the first syllable allows for Jack as a nickname. Only twenty-five little Giacomo’s were born in the United States last year, making it even more of a unique option.
Alessia. Pop star Alessia Cara has been rising up the Billboard charts, but Alessia has yet to make the top 1000. It’s the Italian form of Alexia, with a lighter, more serene sound. While it sounds very much like other popular names - Alyssa, Alisa, Allison - it lends itself to a far less popular (though still pop-music-inspired) nickname: Sia. Alessia is currently at #16 in Italy, and #24 in Switzerland.
Paolo. Once only ascribed to heartthrobs or Latin lovers, Paolo has become more accessible with the rise of Mateo and Leonardo among American audiences. Another name with Biblical origins, Paolo is familiar and friendly, surpassing both Paul and Pablo in style. While there are plenty of interesting Paolo’s in the history books, only a few dozen Paolo’s were born in the US last year.
Ginevra. Another Harry Potter name that has flown under the radar for years, Ginevra is the full first name of Ginny Weasley. It’s the Italian variation of Guinevere or Jennifer, and could be used as a subtle honorific for an aunt Jen. For a second literary connection, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ginevra” begins “Wild, pale and wonder-stricken” - a dramatic verse for a dramatic name!
Elia. Though there were more girls than boys named Elia born in the US last year, this attractive El-name is actually a form of Elijah. One notable namesake is Elia Kazan, an influential Hollywood film director whose films are still well-loved today: A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and Splendor in the Grass, for instance. Elia has great multicultural appeal as well, appearing as a name in more than just Latin language-speaking families.
Think smooth. Imagine a name with the gloss of honey and the flow of water. If it's an English name, chances are it's fashionable for American girls today. From the trim sweetness of "raindrop names"like Lily to the lyricism of "liquid names" like Aurelia, parents are drawn to the sleekest sounds around.
One of the beauties of the fluid sounds is that they travel well. To demonstrate, I've collected examples of smooth girls' names from all over the world. These names, from 33 different languages, show off an extraordinary range of styles. But not one has hard stops or rough edges; just silky-smooth flow.
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|SMOOTH GIRL'S NAME||LANGUAGE||MEANING/ORIGIN|
|Naiara||Basque||Form of the place name Nájera|
|Emina||Bosnian||From Amin, "Trustworthy, truthful"|
|Raya||Bulgarian||"Paradise," also a diminutive of Rayna|
|Mireia||Catalan||Form of the Occitan name Mirèio, a literary invention meaning "admirable"|
|Lenna||Estonian||Short form of names such as Helena|
|Minea||Finnish||From a character in the famous Finnish novel "The Egyptian"|
|Malou||French||Contraction of Marie-Louise|
|Nele||German||A pet form of names such as Cornelia|
|Lilla||Hungarian||Originally a short form of names starting with Li|
|Orla||Irish||From Órfhlaith, "golden princess"|
|Airi||Japanese||Can be written with kanji of various meanings, frequently "love + jasmine"|
|Aiman||Kazakh||From Ai, meaning "moon"|
|Iria||Portuguese||Saint's name, possibly a form of Irene|
|Linnea||Swedish||The name of a flower, after the Swedish botanist Linnaeus|