What’s in a (first) name?

Jeb Bush’s new logo for his impending presidential campaign is notable not just for what it includes (a jaunty exclamation point, retro font) but what it doesn’t. A certain four-letter word. B-U-S-H.

The former Florida governor has long gone by his nickname, formed by the initials of his full name, John Ellis Bush Jr. It can’t hurt that leaving off his surname avoids reminding Americans of his family name, which he shares with his still-unpopular brother, and which evokes a multigenerational political dynasty. But Bush is not alone in a field that already includes a Hillary, a Rand and a Bernie – maybe even a The Donald. If you liked Ike, welcome to the first-name basis 2016 field. 

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America has known Hillary Clinton not just as a first lady, senator, presidential primary candidate or secretary of state; she has also gone by Hillary Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and now just Hillary. Her official presidential campaign logo this time around is the letter “H” with an arrow pointing forward. (Her logo in 2008 was also just plain “Hillary for President.”) But it varies widely. To The New York Times, she is still Mrs. Clinton. To her own representatives speaking about her in public, the former top American diplomat is sometimes “Secretary Clinton,” sometimes “Hillary Clinton” in full (“The campaign is built on that record and consistent with the values Hillary Clinton has always championed,” spokesman Jesse Ferguson told Politico), and sometimes just plain “Hillary.”

Historically, female politicians have struggled to be taken seriously, which going by a first name might undercut. (Some found it sexist when President Barack Obama criticized Sen. Elizabeth Warren on trade by referring to her as “Elizabeth.”) 

But Clinton’s name recognition is in a class of its own, and Clinton’s campaign operatives seem to have worried more about projecting gravitas in 2008 than this time around. “Hillary” implies casual, fun, social-media savvy and not trying to hide the fact that she is a woman. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told McClatchy, “Part of the rap about her has been she’s not accessible and she’s not warm or friendly. This makes her a real person.” It also helps differentiate her from the first Clinton to run for president, her husband Bill. 

RELATED: What’s different about Hillary Clinton, 8 years later?

As for Rand Paul, well, “Stand with Rand” has a rhyming ring to it, no last name needed. Going by his first name also allows the senator from Kentucky to slightly distance himself from his father Ron Paul’s unvarnished libertarian stances, something the younger Paul has already tried to do on policy. Sen. Paul isn’t actually named after libertarian idol and author Ayn Rand, but that doesn’t mean the name association doesn’t help among the late author’s fans. 

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has long gone all in on his nickname, eschewing the more formal Bernard. (It took The Times a while to come around to that.) But Sanders has also encouraged the cuddly affection implied in “Bernie” alone. He has long done a weekly radio segment called “Brunch with Bernie.”

As for possible presidential candidate Donald Trump, he generally slaps his surname on his properties, claiming that it increases their value. Whether he will opt for “The Donald” in a presidential campaign remains to be seen.

Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul

What's in a (first) name?