Ted, Mitt, And Gratz: A Short History of Candidates Who Hate Their First Names - Atlas Obscura
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Ted, Mitt, And Gratz: A Short History of Candidates Who Hate Their First Names

Rafael Edward Cruz (Photo: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr)

Ted Cruz, the first-place finisher in the 2016 Iowa Republican caucus, third-place in the New Hampshire primary, is not really Ted Cruz.

Officially, his first name is Rafael Edward Cruz. He shares that name with his father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz. 

Ted, of course, is a common nickname for Edward, and sons named after their father often go by their middle name. Few candidates for president, though, have ever done so.

There have been many candidates and presidents who have gone by nicknames. Alfred Landon, the Republican who lost to FDR in 1936, went by “Alf”. Eugene Debs, the last prominent Socialist candidate for president, who ran in 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920, went by “Gene”. Jimmy Carter’s full name is James Earl Carter, Jr.; Bob Dole is actually a Robert; Bill Clinton is a William; Al Gore is an Albert.

Willie Person Magnum, though, who ran for president as a Whig, in 1836, was actually a Willie.

There have also been presidential candidates with more distinctive nicknames. Robert Marion La Follette Sr., who was governor of Wisconsin and was the presidential candidate of the Progressive party in 1924, had a great nickname–”Fighting Bob.” Dwight D. Eisenhower was Ike, of course. And William Henry Harrison was “Ole Tippecanoe,” as immortalized in song.

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and for a short while a candidate in this election, is a special case. Legally, he is named Piyush Jindal. Bobby is a nickname he chose for himself as a child; his birth certificate lists no middle name.

It appears that only a few* other presidential candidates before Ted Cruz went by their middle name (although we would love to know of more examples—please send them to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com, if they exist).

One was Benjamin Gratz Brown, who in 1872 was a candidate for the Liberal Republican party, which was formed that year to oppose radical Republican Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection. Brown would sign his letters B. Gratz Brown, which is a much more striking name than Benjamin Brown.

The other presidential candidate who went by his middle name was Willard Romney. 

*Update: We originally identified two others, but there are a few more. Topher Kersting points out a very important addition to this list—Ulysses S. Grant. Our 18th president was born with the name Hiram, but when he entered West Point, he was enrolled by error as Ulysses S. Grant. (His mother’s maiden name was Simpson.)

Rick Perry’s first name is James! Ross Perot’s first name is Henry. Calvin Coolidge’s full name is John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. On the Democratic side, Woodrow Wilson was named Thomas, and Grover Cleveland was really a Stephen.