There have been 44 Presidents of the United States since the late 18th century all of whom have been men. Don’t despair parents of baby daughters, some of their surnames are used for little girls today (although not necessarily in reference to these many great men who have served our nation). Behind every great man is perhaps a greater woman, right? And there are at least 44 First Ladies whose lovely names you may consider. Below is a list of our 44 Presidents in chronological order and a brief description of their presidency:
1.) George Washington (1789-1797)
- Our first and arguably greatest American President, George is a name that comes to us from the Greek language and means "farmer". Apropos, George Washington was born into an old Virginian planter family of gentry’ farmers. We can thank old George for resisting a monarchy and establishing a presidency which would be "fixed on true principles." He was the only President to be elected unanimously by the electorate vote (there was no popular vote at the time) and is often regarded as the Father of his Country. Dissatisfied with the Articles of Confederation, he presided over the writing of the Constitution. He was a good delegator and surrounded himself with talented politicians all the while building a well-financed and secure national government. His first lady was his loyal and dignified wife Martha (whose Biblical name comes from Aramaic meaning "lady").
2.) John Adams (1797-1801)
- Not only was Adams the second President of the U.S., but he was also the first Vice-President under Washington. A Founding Father and Federalist like Washington, Adams was highly intelligent and known more as a political theorist than as a politician. In fact, this Harvard educated man was often criticized for being pretentious. Adams spoke with a lisp and was insecure (although enormously ambitious). A solid diplomat, Adams is also credited as the Father of the American Navy (after creating the Department of the Navy). His name John comes from the Bible and means "god is gracious, generous". There have been four Presidents with this ever-popular name: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler and the more modern favorite John F. Kennedy. John Adam’s wife Abigail was witty and intelligent, but also pro women’s rights and anti-slavery.
- This Founding Father and third President of the U.S. is notable for purchasing the vast Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803 at the bargain basement price of about $15 million – a mere 3 cents per acre. He also financed the Lewis & Clark Expedition. During his terms, the war between France and England was escalating and he made an unpopular decision to stop all foreign trade (the 1807 Embargo Act). The timeless New Testament name Thomas (meaning "twin" from the Greek language) has always been a favorite male name. But Jefferson also inspired the use of his surname, as well. His wife was named Martha, though he was widowed. Jefferson is remembered for his relationship with Sally Hemmings (a slave woman who also happened to be the half-sister of his dead wife).
- The War of 1812 defined most of this fourth President’s term and his wife Dolley brought new definition to the role of First Lady (thanks in part to her vivacious personality and her lavish parties). Incidentally, more Presidents have been named James than any other name, six in all: James Madison, James Monroe, James Polk, James Buchanan, James Garfield and James Earl "Jimmy" Carter. James is the anglicized form of the Hebrew name Jacob which means "the supplanter". Just as Jacob did to Esau, it seems apropos those Presidents named James had to supplant someone else for their own power. Although not in homage to our 4th President, the name Madison is an ultra-trendy girl’s name in modern times.
5.) James Monroe (1817-1825)
- Another Founding Father and the last of the Revolutionary War generation, this James was also a war hero. His presidency is remembered for the Missouri Compromise of 1820 igniting debate over slavery and the Monroe Doctrine after border fights with Russia over Alaska. James has always been a timeless classic, but we expect to see more baby girls named Monroe thanks to Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon (although their choice was in homage to Marilyn Monroe and not James Monroe). James Monroe’s First Lady was Elizabeth, although she had the unfortunate timing of living in Dolley Madison’s shadow.
- JQA is the son of President #2 John Adams, but perhaps not as admired. John Q. Adams began his presidency under a cloud of corruption by paying a political favor to Henry Clay (the man who happened to cast a deciding vote in that election). Inflexible, humorless, arrogant and self-righteous, it’s no surprise Adam’s ill-fated presidency was a one-termer. Regardless, he still reminds us of the charming name Quincy which we like for either a male or a female. His wife was named Louisa, but this name no longer shows up on the American female naming charts (it dropped off the U.S. female naming charts in 1969).
- “Old Hickory” was his nickname and he used his war-hero status to win the election by popular vote (some historians cite as the "dirtiest campaign in history"). It was Jackson who defeated the British against all odds at the Battle of New Orleans. He deftly manipulated his stature and was considered the voice of the common man. Cantankerous, iron-willed and immensely intimidating, people either loved or hated this president. In fact, during his campaign of 1828, his opponents referred to him as "Jackass" which Jackson immediately (and apparently with humor) embraced as the mascot for the Democratic Party (think donkey). The name Andrew comes from the Greek, and means “manly, warrior, brave”, a name apropos for Andrew Jackson who was an intimidating force to be reckoned with and a man who would fight at the drop of a hat. His surname Jackson has become one of the most popular male names today. His First Lady was the unpretentious and kind Rachel, who unfortunately got caught up in a few scandals not of her making.
8.) Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
- This one-term President is known as the Father of the Democratic Party (although he wasn’t the first). He was a machine politician who viewed the White House as his just rewards. Unfortunately, Van Buren was a poor decision maker and a man without a plan. His presidency was marred by the Panic of 1837, a severe economic crisis, which ended his prospects for a second term. The name Martin comes from the Latin "martinus" in reference to Mars, the Roman God of War. Van Buren’s wife was named Hannah (although little is known about her). Um, except that she was his cousin.
- Harrison made a name for himself as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe against Native American Indians who fought against American expansion within the Indiana Territory (um, can you blame them?). Well, back then Harrison was highly regarded for his actions and ran his campaign on the famous "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too" slogan. Harrison also has two other distinctions: he was the last President born a British subject and he was the first President to die in office. Ironically, Harrison contracted pneumonia during his two hour long inaugural address on a cold January winter’s day (his First Lady Anna was not in attendance). William is a name of Germanic origins and means "valiant protector" (he should have protected himself from that cold!) Harrison is also a fairly commonly used male given name in America.
- John Tyler assumed the Presidency after Harrison’s death but refused to have his own V.P. (perhaps he saw that as a bad omen given his own experience). In fact, he was nicknamed "His Accidency" given how he came to power. Tyler isolated himself from other politicians by virtue of his stubborn, aristocratic and aloof disposition. Another one-termer, Tyler’s presidency is remembered for the annexation of Texas and a treaty with England to establish the Canadian border. We know John is one of the most successful male names ever, but Tyler is also a high ranking name today. John Tyler’s first wife was named Letitia (which is from the Late Latin meaning "joy, happiness"); although she was largely confined to an invalid’s chair and did not play the typical socializing First Lady role. After Letitia’s death, Tyler married the very beautiful, the very graceful, and the very young Julia Gardiner (30 years younger, in fact!). Apropos, Julia means "youthful".
11.) James K. Polk (1845-1849)
- Polk was a great President – he was a workaholic but accessible. He was a micro-manager who saw himself as a servant to the people and believed in the idea of a level playing field for all American citizens. Many historians consider him one of the greatest Presidents ever and by all accounts most consider him the hardest working president in history. Politicians today could learn a thing or two from this man. Here’s what he accomplished in four short years: established the Oregon Territory by threatening war with England, brought California into the United States, lowered tariffs, established an independent Treasury, and went to war with Mexico to settle Texas and other parts of the southwest. Essentially, Polk presided over the first continental nation. After all this, Polk did not seek re-election and then died three months after his term ended. James is one of our favorite names. Guess what the "K" middle initial stands for? Knox. We wonder if Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt knew this when they named their son Knox. Polk’s First Lady was the well-educated and greatly admired Sarah.
- Our twelfth President was known as "Old Rough and Ready" thanks in part to his war hero status in the Mexican-American War. He was also slovenly, a poor speaker, and he never registered to vote (imagine that fact flying today!). His presidency was marked by the rising tensions between the North and the South. As a war-hero, he appealed to the North, and as a land owner and former slave-holder, he appealed to the South. As the slavery debate heated up, Taylor sided with the Unionists (threatening to veto the Compromise of 1850). Unfortunately, Taylor died early into his term. Many thought foul play was at hand (poisoning), but this has since been discounted. Zachary is an old Biblical name still popular today, and Taylor is gender-free by today’s standards, although much more popular for the little girls. Taylor’s First Lady was Margaret "Peggy" Taylor, although his hostess at the White House was their youngest daughter Mary Elizabeth. Why? Well, Peggy made a bargain with God: if her husband returned safely from the Mexican War, she would never go out into society again. She kept her vow and only received guests in her upstairs sitting room.
13.) Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
- Fillmore was "unlucky number 13" sometimes referred to as the Gerald Ford of the 19th century. He assumed the presidency after Taylor’s untimely death but was ill-equipped to handle the office. Considered bland and colorless, Millard Fillmore failed to grasp the moral consequences of slavery and so supported the Compromise of 1850 which pretty much pissed off both parties. Even his own party (Whigs) refused to support his re-election. This lackluster president also carries two unpopular names. Millard is not even ranked (it comes from the Olde English meaning "guardian of the mill"). First Lady was Abigail.
- "Handsome Frank" was loved by everyone. So much so, the presidency was practically handed to him on a silver platter. Unfortunately for this charming, out-going and charismatic guy, he was also an indecisive leader and a heavy drinker. Franklin Pierce’s big boo-boo was known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, designed to repeal the Missouri Compromise and let Nebraska and Kansas decide for themselves on the slavery issue. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was so outraged, he created the Republican Party in retaliation, bringing himself squarely into the political narrative (phew). Once loved, Pierce ended his term reviled and ruined. He died an alcoholic recluse; a victim of cirrhosis. Neither Franklin nor Pierce are uber-popular boy names, but they are ranked with mild moderation. His wife was named Jane, a woman who loathed Washington and politics in general. She also tragically lost all three of her children; one week after the election, Benny, who died before her eyes when their train derailed.
15.) James Buchanan (1857-1861)
- Sorry James, we love your name, but this 15th President usually resides near the bottom of the barrel in terms of "greatest president" rankings. A lame duck and pro-South, he was essentially a procrastinating failure. His words to Lincoln as he transferred power: "If you are as happy coming into the office of the Presidency as I am to leave it, then you are a very happy man." His only other distinction was that Buchanan was the only bachelor president in history, and thus often suspected of being homosexual. Despite his lack of accomplishments, people still love the name James. Not surprisingly, Buchanan never achieved any status of usage as a given name. Wifeless, Buchanan’s niece Harriet Lane took on the role of First Lady and social hostess of the White House.
- This American icon truly transcended the Presidency. Known as "The Great Emancipator" Lincoln basically preserved and restored our Union and finally put an end to this nation’s greatest shame: slavery. Magnetic and powerful, Lincoln was either loved or hated – yet "Honest Abe" stood fast to his ideals and rose to the occasion. He was ambitious, decisive, humorous, and even vain. A man obsessed with military strategy and in love with the game of politics, he was a brilliant public speaker. Even after the South was defeated in the Civil War, Lincoln showed no malice or signs of vindictiveness. His second term would have focused on a nation that needed to heal itself, but his life was cut short on April 14, 1865 when Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated the greatest President who ever lived. Apropos, Abraham is a Hebrew name meaning "Father of a multitude (of nations)". Lincoln, which is also a widely used male name in America in homage to this great man, is a surname of Celtic origin meaning "lake settlement". A woman of history in her own right, the very vivacious and impulsive Mary Todd Lincoln was Abe’s First Lady.
17.) Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
- Ugh. Can you just imagine having to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln? Indeed, Johnson was one of the most unfortunate of presidents. In fact, he too was on John Wilkes Booth’s "hit list" that night for assassination and narrowly evaded death himself. Post Civil War, the problem of Reconstruction fell to Johnson and lacking Lincoln’s powerful leadership; he just wasn’t up for the responsibilities of this magnitude. Truth be told, Andrew Johnson was a southerner who once owned slaves. He was actually a known racist, and so he provided little protection for the freed slaves during his term (despite his demonstrated loyalty to the Union). Congress was fed up with this stubborn, uncompromising President and found a clever way to impeach Johnson (who was acquitted by one vote). Johnson’s inflexible management style inadvertently empowered congress and diminished the presidential power. Andrew still remains a popular boy’s name in America, but no one uses the name Johnson (probably mostly because its a slang term for the male appendage). Eliza was Johnson’s loyal wife and First Lady who stood by him during impeachment.
- If there was such a thing as paparazzi in 1869, then Grant would have been their star celebrity. Seriously, this man was the most popular person in America (well, at least in the North). Elected at the age of 46, Ulysses S. Grant was then the youngest President to achieve office at the time. Although he did not receive the White majority vote, it was the voting freed Blacks who helped put him into office (12% of the popular vote). As General of the Army, Grant played one of the most dominant roles in the Civil War (after Lincoln, of course) and was the ultimate war hero. Fiercely loyal, this military man was also known to be shy, humble and modest. His presidency was marked by ongoing problems with Reconstruction. The North wanted to punish the South and the South wanted to punish the Blacks. He had naive faith in his subordinates, but this was politics after all and not war. Scandals and corruption ruled over his commands. Known as the "well-intentioned" president, most of his efforts failed. But he was for equality and he did a lot to protect Black people in the south. Ulysses is actually the Latin equivalent of the Greek Odysseus (the mythological hero of Homer’s Odyssey) meaning "the one who is wrathful or hated". But here’s a little known fact for you: Grant’s birth name was actually Hiram Ulysses Grant (Hiram is from the Hebrew meaning "exalted brother"). So where does the middle initial S come from? Grant’s mother’s maiden name was Simpson, so by adopting Ulysses as his first name and Simpson as his middle name, he effectively gave himself the initials U.S. His wife, Julia, called her White House years the "happiest period of my life". She enjoyed her husband’s stature and fame, and threw lavish parties.
19.) Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
- The 1876 election of Hayes was nearly identical to George W. Bush’s first term election. In other words, he lost the popular vote and the electorate vote was hotly debated. It was a close call and recounts were required. A very precarious way to enter office, indeed. In order to win, it was widely believed that Hayes had to make "back room" deals and concessions to secure his position. He gained several nicknames as a result such as: "His Fraudulancy" "RutherFRAUD Hayes" and "The Great Usurper". In any case, Hayes was known to be an intellectual (Harvard Law grad), honest, and compromising. His wife was a teetotaler known as "Lemonade Lucy" since alcohol was not allowed in the White House. In the end, Hayes compromised too much with the South so that they could recover their Democratic control, but he’s been strongly criticized for not doing enough to protect the basic human rights of Blacks. He did not seek re-election. There was no real positive lasting legacy with this President, and none of his names are popular as given names either (the B. stands for Birchard, by the way).
20.) James A. Garfield (1881)
- Our 20th U.S. President did not last one year in office. Mired in Civil Service corruptions inherited from Hayes and presidents before him, Garfield attempted to focus on civil reform. You see, there were a lot of office seekers and cronies asking for political favors. Power and money always breed corruption and then scandal. Old Garfield wanted to please everyone and so in the end pleased no one – at least he attempted to go up against the New York ever-powerful political machine. One disgruntled office seeker, the insane Charles Guiteau, felt slighted enough to stalk Garfield and put two bullets into him. One grazed his arm, but the other went into his torso. It’s a well-known belief that Garfield should have survived this assassination attempt had it not been for the unsanitary medical attention he received later. Infection rather than the bullet killed this President of 200 days. James is once again a favorite male name in America but Garfield has never been adopted as a given name. His middle initial A. stood for Abram. His wife was named Lucretia, an ancient Roman name meaning "profit, wealth". This female name dropped off the U.S. female naming charts in 1977 and hasn’t been in use since.
21.) Chester Arthur (1881-1885)
- Remember that powerful New York political machine mentioned above? Well, Chester Arthur was once one of its star figures as Chief Collector of the New York Customs House, until his removal by Hayes who at the time was trying to demonstrate an iron-hand against corrupt civil service. Arthur obviously assumed the presidency after Garfield’s death, and one of the great ironies of his office is that this once politically corrupt man became an agent of civil reform. We might call Chester a "metro sexual" today – a New Yorker through and through, Arthur was famous for his fashionable side-burns, his fancy clothes, fine dining and his general bon vivant lifestyle. He also had the foresight to upgrade the U.S. Navy, which came in handy a few years later during the Spanish-American War. Chester is no longer used as a masculine given name in America, although it’s derived from a Latin word meaning "fortified place". Arthur is considered an old-fashioned male name by today’s standards yet it is still used moderately. Chester Arthur’s First Lady was the Ellen, his "beloved Nell" who died a year before his inauguration from pneumonia. She was bitterly mourned, and Chester refused to give her White House position to anyone.
22.) Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)
- America’s transition into an industrial society was in full swing by the time Grover Cleveland came to power in 1885. Scandals, corruption and mediocrity marked the presidency for years and its power had greatly diminished. The true controllers of power were the so-called Captains of Industry, most notably J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon and John Rockefeller. Sounds familiar, huh? "Grover the Good" as his campaign billed him would only last as a one-term president, again lacking the proactive strength and visionary talent to lead this nation. He also had a glaring personal problem which his political opponents were quick to make known: an illegitimate child (although Cleveland was forgiven when he took immediate responsibility). It seems that all Cleveland managed to accomplish during his term was exercise his veto power at twice the rate of all his predecessors combined (414 vetoes in all)!!! The name Grover sounds too much like a Sesame Street character, so we’re not surprised it’s not used as a given name. It started out as an Olde English surname meaning "grove of trees". Frances Folsom Cleveland was the first First Lady to be married in the White House, and she was 27 years younger than her groom.
- Our 23rd President was in the shadow of his grandfather, the "Tippecanoe" battle hero and 9th President, William Henry Harrison. Still, Benjamin was a Civil War vet himself and sympathetically instituted a pension for fellow veterans which nearly bankrupted the country. He had another economic failure: the McKinley Tariff which was designed to protect American industry and workers, but backfired when consumer prices skyrocketed. Needless to say, his failed policies did not earn him another term. Benjamin is a classic favorite, from the Hebrew meaning "son of the south" or "son of my old age". Harrison is also a moderately used male given name in America although nowhere near as popular as Benjamin. First Lady Caroline Harrison is notable for the founding of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
24.) Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)
- As Yogi Berra might say: "It’s déjà vu all over again." Didn’t we just discuss Grover Cleveland’s position as our 22nd President? Well, he also happens to be our 24th President as well. In fact, he’s the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms. How’d that happen, you ask? Americans were pissed off with Harrison’s failed economics; little did they know: the worst was yet to come. The Panic of 1893 burst the industrial bubble to pieces. Americans were desperate and poor; there was no equitable distribution of wealth (much like today) and the people wanted help. Cleveland was compassionate but unwilling to let government step-in. He was out of touch with the realities of the situation and needless to say, his popularity waned and he was not re-elected. His wife Frances would be the only woman to serve two non-consecutive terms as First Lady.
- McKinley had a calm, laid-back demeanor which caused many people to underestimate his very capable and efficient management style. He was also the last Civil War veteran to be President and he had 20 years of political experience under his belt in Congress. As he assumed the presidency, the depression of 1893 was running its course and things were looking up economically. McKinley’s term was most defined by two things: the Spanish American War and his unfortunate assassination (the third president meeting this fate). The human suffering and brutality suffered by the Cubans under Spanish control was too much for the American people to stomach. War became inevitable. But not only for humanitarian reasons. The U.S. needed to claim its own overseas military power for its own expansionist self-interests. Highly influential on issues of foreign policy was McKinley’s Secretary of the Navy, none other than Theodore Roosevelt. When the USS Maine exploded (for reasons unknown), it became the perfect excuse to go to war. TR left his government post to create the "Rough Riders" and his fame earned him a place as McKinley’s running mate in the 1900 election (which they won). Of course, this meant that the often controversial Teddy Roosevelt was just "one heartbeat from the presidency". To the dismay of TR’s foes, McKinley was shot and killed in 1901 by a crazy man upset about the economic disparity of the rich and poor in the U.S. William remains an ever-popular boy’s name in America: a classic standard. Interestingly, McKinley is a surname used on little girls today (although doubtful in reference to this 25th President). First Lady Ida McKinley was a near invalid when she entered the White House, although she and her husband were devoted to each other. Ida is a girl’s name that hasn’t been used in America since 1984. It means "work, labor" with Gemanic roots.
26.) Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
- The name Theodore means "God’s gift" (originating from the Greek language). We like to think of Teddy Roosevelt as God’s gift to America. Needless to say, he was a great president (even if he was the Republican’s worst nightmare – and, by the way, that was his party!). Actually, TR never identified himself with any party; he could care less about party lines (what he cared about was the American people). This man was a true original: he was extremely energetic, an adventurist, always in motion, charismatic, exciting, decisive, contradictory, strong-willed and very shrewd. He had a personality of gigantic proportions and he either made strong supporters or bitter enemies. There are so many things that defined Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency and his legacy is enormous. A conservationalist, TR set aside over 230 million acres of federally-owned land, protecting these "national treasures" from being developed and destroyed. He was the "Trust-Busting" president who curbed and regulated the power wielded by industrialists such as J.P. Morgan and others. He ensured the construction of the Panama Canal. He improved labor conditions and regulated industry for the protection of the American consumer. He was a strong force on foreign policy. He was the president who said: "Speak softly but carry a big stick." TR did not seek a third term, which he later regretted. This man had a tough time letting go of power. He hand-picked Taft to continue his policies and visions, but Taft wasn’t so controllable. Teddy’s First Lady was Edith; a childhood best friend he married after his beloved first wife Alice died in childbirth.
- As mentioned above, Taft was hand-picked by Roosevelt to carry out his plan. Only this didn’t work out as planned. Taft was a reluctant leader and did not enjoy politics; in fact, his real dream was to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The other thing people remember about Taft was that he holds the record as our heaviest president (350+ lbs). He once joked about himself on a streetcar: "I got up and gave my seat to three ladies." Since Taft was not exactly into his position as President, he delegated a lot of power to his cabinet members who pretty much did as they pleased. This made Teddy Roosevelt crazy; he believed Taft was unraveling all of his work and became quite vindictive. In the 1912 election, TR tried to gain back the Republican nomination, but his party chose Taft (he was easier to control). Furious, TR joined a new "Progressive" party to run against Taft and the Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson. Just like Ross Perot did in the 1992 election, Roosevelt split the Republican vote making it possible for the Democrats to secure the Executive Office. Helen "Nellie" Taft was her husband’s "treasure".
28.) Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
- Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, Wilson and the Democrats won the presidency. The former President of Princeton University and then Governor of New Jersey, Wilson is often referred to as our most academic or collegial president (he’s the only President to hold a PhD). Not exactly warm and personable, Woodrow Wilson was disciplined, methodical, principled and religious. One of the first things he did when coming into office was to found the Federal Reserve (probably his most lasting legacy). Aside from that, Wilson was also a "war president" whose 2nd term in office covered the period during World War I, also called "The Great War". At first, Wilson pledged neutrality. But then came the sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans in 1915. His presidency became consumed by foreign affairs and he finally asked Congress for a Declaration of War in 1917. Nineteen months later, the Germans surrendered (thanks to General Pershing to whom Wilson gave control). After the war, Wilson was the first President to travel to Europe during office and he was well-received in England, France and Italy as the "savior from the West." His great obsession was the formation of the League of Nations, but Congress (mainly the Republican opposition) defeated it much to Wilson’s chagrin (he still won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, though). Later in office, Wilson suffered a stroke and was little effective (his wife covered up the severity of the situation). Woodrow is no longer a name used for boys in America, but Wilson is on the list. Wilson’s first wife Ellen died of Bright’s Disease shortly into his first term. He remarried Edith whom he met while still profoundly grieving his first wife. She is often called "the first woman to run the government" or the "Secret President" after her husband suffered his stroke.
29.) Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
- America’s 29th President was Republican, serving from 1921 until his death in 1923. Warren Harding began his life in Ohio where he became a self-made publisher and rose quickly in state politics (mainly because he was quite content to let the “machine bosses” rule the roost). A conservative Republican, a ceremonial politician, a strong orator, good-natured, and a man with small-town appeal, it’s no wonder that fellow Republicans looked to nominate him on their 1920 presidential ticket. Ironically, Harding won by a landslide (60% of the popular vote) thanks to his well-orchestrated “Return to Normalcy” slogan which resonated well with Americans at the time. He rewarded his supporters (known as “the Ohio gang”) with prominent positions in his administration. He did, however, appoint some good, capable men, such as Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce. The problem with Harding is that he wouldn’t take a stand. He didn’t want to risk making enemies and so he turned the other cheek on his cheating, dishonest “friends”. Harding was a pro-business President but knew little about foreign policy; his Secretaries of the Treasury, State and Commerce essentially ran the show. Harding was no visionary. In the end, he died quietly in his sleep in San Francisco while on a political tour of the west. Good thing for him, too. His administration was about to be called out for its far-reaching corruption. Harding called his First Lady, Florence, "my Duchess". She, in turn, poured all of her acumen into his career. Florence is a name no longer used in America, falling off the charts in 1981. Perhaps too old-fashioned even by today’s standards, Florence means "flourishing, prosperous" from the Latin.
30.) Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
- Coolidge was actually born John Calvin Coolidge on Independence Day in 1872. After becoming involved in politics, Coolidge went to Massachusetts and diligently worked his way up the political ladder until he became Governor. After gaining national political capital stemming from the 1919 Boston Police Strike (during which time he held fast against the strikers whom he referred to as “deserters” and “traitors), Coolidge would gain the candidacy for Vice President on the 1920 Republican ticket with Warren Harding. In 1923, Coolidge would assume the presidency after the sudden death of Harding and was again elected in his own right in 1924. His presidency was marked by his laissez-faire approach, a small-government proponent and a man of few words. As a Coolidge biographer put it, "He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength." This reduction of government would not be revisited in any significant way until Ronald Reagan. First Lady Grace Coolidge juxtaposed Silent Cal with her vivacity and charm. Good-looking and stylish, this one had a zest for life.
31.) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
- Herbert Hoover had the unfortunate timing of being the "Depression President". Hailing from California, and a Stanford University graduate who made it big in business, Hoover was our first President born west of the Mississippi. Not long into his presidency came Black Tuesday in October 1929 and the crash of the stock market. This was the beginning of the end for old Herbert. Hoover didn’t believe in direct government intervention and tried to rely on volunteerism to help the downtrodden. That didn’t work, and Hoover basically lacked the charisma to inspire national confidence. Americans turned on him and became angry and critical. He lost the re-election to someone who could bring new hope to Americans: FDR. The name Herbert is about as forgetful as Hoover’s presidency. The name is not in use today. Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry (yes, that’s right she had boy names) – was dignified, poised and charitable.
32.) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt is another one of the "great" presidents. He was a public charmer and a brilliant politician. With his "It’ll Be Better Tomorrow" slogan, FDR had the American public at "hello". He was born into wealth, pampered as a child, a Harvard graduate (and C student), and the 5th cousin to the ever-memorable Teddy Roosevelt. FDR was also struck with polio and crippled at the age of 39 (the severity of which he carefully kept hidden from the public). He had a strong personality and an infectious charisma, but he was elusive and hard to know. FDR had a rather unorthodox even chaotic management style but this didn’t stop him from effecting so much change in a fast-changing landscape. His "New Deal" was a set of initiatives designed to impart a new degree of security and safety upon the American people. He joined the citizens every week in their living rooms during his "Fireside Chats" (he was a master radio broadcaster). Although ultimately it was the industrial mobilization for the war effort which brought America out of its depressed economy. At first, FDR aided allies but maintained a position of neutrality. Then came December 7, 1941 ("a day which will live in infamy") when Pearl Harbor was attacked thrusting the U.S. into war. Roosevelt and General Eisenhower orchestrated the greatest logistical effort and massive assault on mainland Europe known as "D Day" (June 4, 1944). FDR was easily re-elected to a 4th term, but at this point his health was failing and he would die soon after.FDR is remembered for having the longest and one of the greatest presidencies in history – all future presidents would have to live in the enormity of his shadow. He was challenged with two of the largest crises in American history: the Great Depression and World War II – but as he said once: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" His wife Eleanor remains practically as highly regarded by history as her husband.
33.) Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
- Truman assumed the presidency after Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. Americans were stunned, still grieving and nervous about this man they hardly felt they knew. Truman was a farmer from Missouri, turned businessman, turned politician. He was plain-spoken, called it like he saw it, and had much common sense to make up for what he lacked in formal education. Known for his "The Buck Stops Here" sign on his desk, Truman had the courage to make politically controversial decisions. One such decision was dropping the Atomic Bomb, forcing the Japanese to surrender – a decision that was believed to have saved the lives of 500,000 to one million American troops and put a final end to the long and difficult World War II. His presidency will be remembered for the A Bomb, but also the Truman Doctrine (an ultimately unsuccessful containment policy on the spread of communism) and the Marshall Plan (U.S. participation in the reconstruction of Europe). Often overlooked, Truman also took the first bold steps toward the end of segregation. His wife "Bess" (Elizabeth) was the love of his life and they, with their only daughter Margaret, formed a close-knit family bond. Truman often referred to his wife as "the Boss" and his daughter as "the Boss’s Boss".
34.) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
- Just as Ulysses Grant was greatly revered by the American public post-Civil War, Eisenhower was also a godlike figure after WWII. Truth be told, Eisenhower was a reluctant candidate but ultimately felt that his country really needed him. As the legendary mastermind of "D Day", DDE was universally admired and loved. His "I Like Ike" slogan was 100% the truth. Eisenhower ended the Korean War and was a pursuer of peace. Ironically, this once war general spent less money on defense and focused instead on public works. One of his greatest contributions which effectively changed the landscape of America was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. DDE had an easy re-election in 1956 as the American economy was soaring, but his second term was a lot more challenging – marked by the USSR beating us into space, the rising Cuban Revolution, communism overwhelming the American public – and if this wasn’t enough, Dwight, although an honorable and decent man, remained aloof on the Civil Rights issues. His very popular First Lady Mamie Eisenhower loved her role in the White House, and her cheerful and outgoing personality endeared her to the public. The name Mamie is a diminutive of either Mary or Margaret. The name Dwight dropped off the male naming charts recently in 2004 (like the name Dennis, Dwight is ultimately derived from the Greek Dionysius). DDE’s middle initial stands for the ever-popular boy’s name David.
- JFK’s presidency lasted only 1,000 days but in that short time, he changed history. Winning by a narrow margin in the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy represented the passing of the torch to a new generation. He brought about so much youthful energy to a nation that desperately needed hope for the future, and his dignified, beautiful and stylish wife Jacqueline won the hearts of Americans in an instant. Aristocratic but dedicated to public service, Kennedy was born to wealth yet heroically served in WWII. Charming, witty, magnetic and handsome, he was beloved by young and old alike (as well as his many mistresses). His presidency saw the Bay of Pigs failure – for which he took full responsibility ("victory has many fathers; failure is an orphan") and gained back the American trust. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated his strength on foreign policy – he was audacious and bold. He created the Peace Corp, he planned a war on domestic poverty and he promised to put a man on the moon. After witnessing the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK became strong on Civil Rights. JFK also arguably transcended the presidency – not by any specific political decision or policymaking – but rather because of the iconic stature of his years known as Camelot. John is of course one of the most popular male names ever, but the surname Kennedy has become hugely popular for the little girls. Go figure.
36.) Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
- Another Vice President to assume the Executive Office by virtue of assassination or death, LBJ was already politically ambitious in his own right (and would have preferred to earn the high office by his own efforts). Oh well. Johnson was a larger than life character and no wilting violet. Not a part of the ivy-league crowd of Washington politicians, LBJ had an ego problem and something to prove. Fortunately, he was more cunning and clever than many of his compatriots. The Great Society was his plan to raise the underprivileged and the Civil Rights Act was at the core of his commitment to a better society. Unfortunately for Johnson, his presidency is often overshadowed by the growing concerns in Vietnam (LBJ increased troops significantly). "Hey, hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?" was chanted outside of the White House as the anti-war movement gained steam. His wife was known as "Lady Bird" Johnson, but she was Christened Claudia. Much admired and beloved, Lady Bird was active in her husband’s Great Society plan, particularly with the war on poverty and the preschool Head Start program.
- Obsessed with power, Nixon holds the distinction as the only president ever to resign office. It was that obsession with power that did him in at the end. One of the most experienced politicians to come into the executive office, Richard Milhous Nixon had already served as a House Representative, a U.S. Senator and as a Vice President under Eisenhower. Yet his management style and general disposition earned him many enemies (and his paranoid personality saw them everywhere). He secretly escalated the war in Vietnam and when the NY Times reported on some secret bombings, Nixon started wire-tapping the Watergate office complex (home to the Democratic National Committee) to uncover the leaks. When this was discovered, the scandal overtook his administration. Nixon would resign as Articles of Impeachment for obstruction of justice were being prepared in Congress. He is most remembered for the utterance of these five words: "I am not a crook." His wife Pat was actually born Thelma Catherine on March 16. Her father immediately dubbed her "Pat" as his "St. Patrick’s babe in the morn." As First Lady, Pat Nixon encouraged volunteer service and she "stood by her man" during his troubled times.
38.) Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
- The only Vice President to assume office due to a resignation, Gerald Ford walked square into turmoil. Known to be amiable, decent and straight-forward, Ford could never get out from under the shadow of Watergate. Then he made the unfortunate mistake of pardoning Nixon (Americans never forgave him for that). Truth be told, the Watergate scandal was so all-consuming he hardly had any other choice. He needed to put it behind him so he could actually get some work done. Saigon also fell to communism during his administration and Americans had to evacuate (a great embarrassment on the world stage). Americans just wanted Watergate and Vietnam behind them so there was no chance in hell Ford would see a second term. His wife Betty (born Elizabeth) is known less for her First Lady duties than for the impact she’s made on alcoholic rehabilitation.
- Jimmy who? That’s what most Americans were asking when James Earl Carter, a peanut farmer and one-time governor of Georgia, announced his candidacy for U.S. President. The nation was still licking its collective wounds over JFK’s assassination, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. What the country needed was inspiration, confidence and optimism. Jimmy Carter billed himself as an "outsider" of the Washington political machine and voters responded. Our 39th president was highly intelligent and deeply religious. He made Human Rights a central focus on foreign policy and his Camp David Accords resulted an an almost unimaginable peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Unfortunately, his challenges would overshadow his achievements in the next re-election. Riddled with energy and economic crises, Carter came off as scolding the American public rather than promising them what they wanted to hear. His time in office was also remembered for the Iranian Hostage Crisis – his diplomatic approach to the situation seemed weak to most Americans (but was probably the right course of action). Americans now wanted something new again. Today, Carter is admired highly for his ongoing roles as peacemaker and international statesman. He’s been able to accomplish more outside of the Oval Office. During his presidency, his First Lady Rosalynn took an interest in the performing arts and supported aid for mental health and the elderly.
- "The Great Communicator" and former Hollywood actor knew just how to speak rhetoric to the American people and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear. He was tough-talking, conservative and deeply patriotic. He was also the oldest president ever to be elected at the age of 69. Love him or hate him, Reagan was a substantial figure in American history and many events marked his time in office. On his day of inauguration the hostages were sent home from Iran. The next eight years saw the following: the explosion of the Challenger, the almost-assassination of Reagan, the Iran-Contra Affair, Reaganomics, the head-scratching "Star Wars" initiative and the end of the Cold War. Reagan almost viewed America as a place he remembered from a 1930s movie – and he was often emotionally detached from very real domestic issues such as AIDS, women’s rights and homelessness. He will never be known as the brightest or most hands-on president, but he was a solid leader and a good talker. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. His wife Nancy was said to be quite influential – providing him with guidance based on her astrological readings. As First Lady she is often remembered for the "Just Say No!" slogan associated with her fight against alcohol abuse among young people.
- Poor George Bush will forever be remembered for his "Read my lips: No. New. Taxes." broken promise. Still, Bush 41 (as he is often called) had a long political resume and was the first sitting V.P. to win the presidency since Van Buren. His term as President was mainly defined by the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War against Iraq and Sadam Hussein (who invaded Kuwait in August 1990). The Iraqis retreated from Kuwait, and so mission accomplished (but GHWB has often been criticized for not taking Sadam out of power). Still, his approval soared with the win in Kuwait – that is until the deficit created by the Reaganomics years reared its ugly head forcing Bush to raise taxes. Americans couldn’t forgive him for that in the end. His wife Barbara was a universally loved First Lady and self-described as "everybody’s grandmother."
- Bill Clinton was our nation’s saxophone-playing, good-humored, rock-n-roll president. He came onto the scene breathing new energy into a country of frustrated Americans (he was also only 46 years old). From modest beginnings, Billy Jeff had grand ambitions, and with his intelligence (he was a Rhodes Scholar) and charismatic personality, it seemed destined to be. It didn’t hurt that Clinton was the quintessential natural politician. His presidency is marked by one of the longest periods of economic prosperity and peace in American history. It is also marked by the many scandals of his making (or those gleefully spread by his enemies): Jennifer Flowers, Travelgate, Whitewater, Paula Jones and, everyone’s favorite, Monica Lewinsky (for which he was impeached). Still, it seemed that nothing could touch his approval ratings. Everyone pretty much loved Bill Clinton, except of course, his many Republican enemies. His wife Hillary was the first First Lady to have an office in the West Wing.
43.) George W. Bush (2001-2009)
- The second son of a President to become President (John Quincy Adams was the first), "George 43" was "elected" in a circus environment. In fact, it wasn’t the people of the U.S. who voted him in; it was the U.S. Supreme Court that ultimately handed him the presidency (putting an end to voting disputes and recounts in Florida). His presidency was immediately defined by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 followed by the Iraqi War. He is also often criticized for a lack of intellectual rigor, awkward inarticulation, and too much delegation (many people believe Dick Chaney was really running the show). It’s too early for historians to assess his presidency, but the deterioration of relations between Republicans and Democrats (starting with the Clinton Administration) has really hurt this nation – and Bush’s administration only enhanced the problem. His First Lady, Laura Bush, has always been an ardent supporter of her husband’s policies and agenda, and the ever gracious wife and mother.
44.) Barack Obama (2009-present)
- The election of the nation’s first Black president in 2008 certainly indicates how far the United States has come (now when will we be ready for a woman?) Obama won on a platform all about hope and change. He promised to end the war in Iraq, increase our independence on energy and institute national healthcare. He also entered the White House during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Making matters worse, the bi-partisanship and lobbyist powers in American politics today almost completely prohibit the ability to forge change. The presidency must be a frustrating role to play today – we hope he can effect change and help this country get back on the right track. In the meantime, we haven’t seen his name enter the panoply of American male names yet. But First Lady Michelle is making quite an impression.