Could the names of Presidential candidates hold any clues as to their suitability for office? Probably not.
For example, the Bush family name is Anglo-Saxon and refers simply to a person who lives by a bush, probably meaning a wine merchant, since the image of a bush adorned the customary sign for a vintner. Clinton is Old English for a “fenced settlement,” derived from the town of Glympton in Oxfordshire. And Reagan is Irish, meaning son of Riag (“king”), or “little king.”
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to probe the onomastics of current Presidential politics.
Take Romney. Please. I mean take the name “Romney.” Its origin is a bit obscure. Some sources say it’s Norman and first showed up in the 11th century in a village in Kent over which Robert de Romenel presided. Others say it’s of Welsh origin and means “a winding river.” And yet another learned scholar opines that it’s Anglo-Saxon, derived from rum, meaning “spacious” and ea, “river”—i.e. “Big River.”
Santorum is from the Latin word sanctus, meaning “saint,” of which sanctorum is the plural genitive, which would mean “of the saints.” Other Italian names like Santorini and Santorello stem from the same root.
Paul, as in Ron, derives from the Roman family name Paulus, which means "small" or "humble" in Latin; an English cognate is the word few.
As for Gingrich, it’s of Swiss Mennonite provenance, originally Günderich, meaning “power battle,” or words to that effect. Gunderic was also a 5th century Vandal chieftain.
At the back of the GOP heap, Perry has several possible origins. It could be a derivative of the Latin peregrine, meaning “wanderer,” “traveler,” or “stranger.” It might also originate in the Anglo-Saxon pyrige, or “pear tree,” meaning a person who lived near such a tree. Perry may also have sprung from the Welsh ap Herry, meaning “son of Harry or Henry.” And yet another possibility is the Norman French perrieur, or “quarryman.” You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Bachmann could be German, Catalan, Polish, Hebrew, or English in origin and what it means depends on the language. In German it would be either “baker” or “person who lives by a stream.” The latter is also its English meaning. In Catalan, it would mean “a dark or shady person.” In Hebrew it derives from ben chayim, or “son of life.” And in Polish it’s somebody who comes from Sebaste, a town in Turkey.
Finally, Huntsman is more or less what it sounds like—an English name meaning either a man who hunts, or the servant of such a hunter. The candidate will probably opt for the former.
Oh—and what about our sitting President? Obama is derived from the Dohluo language spoken by the Luo ethnic group in Kenya. Bam means “bent” or “slightly curved” or “crooked,” and O- means “he.” Many Kenyan names begin with O- (just like in Ireland). The best guess of most linguists is that the name Obama originated with one of the President’s ancestors who was bow-legged.
Bow-legged or not, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou hobbles lickety-split down Dactyl Drive to Anapest Avenue, laying waste to sundry poetic monuments in his path.
Will long-running Romney
Be the GOP nom’nee?
Or will it be Gingrich,
That guy who is bling-rich?
Will find folks are for ‘im.
Or possibly Paul
Will win it all.
I do believe Perry
It sure won’t be Huntsman,
Although he’s no dunce, man.
And as for Bachmann,
Oh, yes—poor old Cain
Found running was vain,
The same as Pawlenty
Who quite early had plenty.
Best stick with Obama,
Or the Dalai Lama.