What’s In A Name?

I put off writing this article until I felt sure that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 US Presidential Election.   That didn’t quite work out as I had been expecting …


I would prefer not to see another President Clinton.

Don’t get me wrong: I will have no problem with President Hillary, even if largely because of the main alternative on offer.  The issue lies with her choice of surname.

When she married Bill Clinton in 1975, Hillary Rodham did not take her husband’s name, much to the dismay of her mother and mother-in-law.

He managed to become Governor of Arkansas in 1978, but failed to be re-elected two years later.  His wife’s continued use of her maiden name was cited as one of the reasons for that loss.  This TV interview from 1979 gives a flavour of the mood at the time.

For the next campaign, in 1982, she styled herself as Mrs Bill Clinton.  Whilst this may have contributed to the electoral success that time round, soon afterwards was born the format she has since been best known for using, namely Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC).  That was how she was presented to the world stage, as President Bill’s First Lady from 1993 to 2000.

It was still as HRC that she ran for the US Senate in 2000 and then 2006.  Her unsuccessful 2008 Presidential Nomination bid may have been in the new style of Hillary Clinton, but in her role as Senator for New York she continued all the while to use HRC.  When President Obama appointed his Secretary of State, the name of that person was Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Her April 2015 Statement of Candidacy submission to the Federal Election Commission is in the name of HRC and that is how she signs the form.  You can see it below.  (Click on the image to see a larger version.)


You might reasonably have expected, therefore, that HRC would be the format used for the subsequent campaigns, for the Democratic Nomination and then for the Presidential Election itself; but, you’d have been wrong.

The campaign communications material has most often reduced the name to the simple Hillary, as in the slogan of “Hillary for President”.  Otherwise, the full version being used is Hillary Clinton.   Rodham doesn’t get a look in anywhere.

And that’s been taken through to the ballot itself.  Here’s a picture of an actual 2016 ballot paper (image courtesy of Corey Taratuta):


So, the question now is: when it comes to her Inauguration in January 2017, which name will be announced  by the Chief Justice?  Will it be Hilary Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton who takes the oath of office?  Or, dare we hope that she’ll go the whole hog and step up as Hillary Diane Rodham?

In any event, Hillary will be the first female President of the USA.  Perhaps that’s enough to be going on with. (Having a First Husband will take some getting used to as well.)

Nonetheless, if Hillary is to be seen as one of Bill’s successors in her own right, rather than his later proxy, it must help to reinforce that distinction by using her own name rather than his.[1]

The US TV commentator Samantha Bee put it this way earlier this week:

“If you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary Clinton, I get it.  I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton either.

I’m voting for Hillary ‘god-damn-brilliant-bad-ass-queen-Beyoncé’ Rodham.

I have a hunch she’s still in there.”




1.  You might argue that it didn’t matter that the first female Prime Minister of the UK was known as Mrs Margaret Thatcher rather than Miss (or Ms) Margaret Roberts; but, wasn’t that because her husband hadn’t been a public figure himself?

The difference here is that there has already been a President Clinton.  I’m guessing that the correct style to use in future for Hillary would be President Mrs Clinton, rather than Mrs President Clinton (which is what she used to be), but either way it makes my point.

As an aside, consider the case of the first female Prime Minister of India.  Although she was born Indira Nehru, daughter of the country’s first ever PM, she is known to history by her married name, Gandhi.  Although there was in fact no familial connection with the famed Mahatma, many people – particularly foreigners – assume that she was his descendant. Nae luck.

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