This is a bit of a adaptation of something I had written back in the winter when the GOP was staging their nomination battle. That piece and the 2012 U.S. election, was then about how a 'Barack' might end up going against a 'Mitt' or even a 'Newt'.
With Mitt - we shall mostly be sticking with first names here - officially given the GOP nomination at the party's convention last week, it's now official: it's Barack versus Mitt, the oddest face-off of first names in the history of American presidential elections. Yes, it's trivial and no, it's not meant to be critical of their ethnic origins or the names themselves, it's just that never have two more obscure names faced off against one another. So obscure neither name has made it into the U.S. Social Security Administration's list of top 1,000 baby boy names used in any year, ever.
What's in a name? Not so much perhaps but arguably it is a sign of the changing times. Surely if you'd told someone 12 years ago, when George Jr. beat Al (with a little help from the U.S. Supreme Court) that in just 8 years someone named Barack would win the White House they would have thought you loopy. And few had even heard of Mitt back then and were probably unaware there was such a name, except to identify that thing you use in baseball.
The U.S. Presidential candidate name game
Now there has been names like Alson, Alton, Grover, Horatio, Rutherford, Ulysses and Wingfield run for the Presidency, but those names were, in their time, enjoying some degree of popularity. And far more often it's been a commonly used name on the ballot, so much so that in the first presidential election in 1789, three of four candidates who lost to a George, the winner, were named John, the fourth was a Robert. The first 6 elections had 14 candidates: 3 Johns, 2 Georges, 2 James', 2 Thomas' and an Aaron, Charles, Oliver, Robert and Samuel.
It was not until the 7th election in 1812, two hundred years ago, where we get a less-used name: DeWitt, who lost to a James. Now you might recognize Dewitt's last name - Clinton. He was the second Clinton (surname) to run for the office - we all know the third - and in 1888 there was even a candidate whose first name was Clinton.
Barack vs. Mitt: rarity sign of times
To cut to the chase, in the history of America there have been 56 Presidential elections and they have been dominated by what could be characterized as common names, names then oft-used and which continued with some degree of common usage.
To illustrate that, a total 123 candidate names have been on the ballot - all of them men - and the John who lost to a Barack in 2008, John McCain, was the 19th named John, the most of any (only 3 Johns won: John Adams, his son John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy Jr.). And along with those 19 Johns, 10 James' have run, 7 named George and 7 named William, making the combined occurrences of those names alone 43. That works out to 35 percent of all candidates, 43 out of 123, were either a John, James, a George or a William.
That stat makes this election year of 2012, Barack versus Mitt, off the charts unique. And with the coming inclusion of women - there's been a handful of women run for V.P. already - and candidates of more varied ethnic origins on the ballot, it surely is a sign of the times. So in this sense this year's election, with regard first names, is a window into a new future.