Finding the presidential namesakes

photo via Wikicommons

The core of this project, of course, is visiting each of the gravesites of the US presidents, but that’s just one kind of memorial – in fact, I’m working on my list of sites to see in Washington (assuming the Kickstarter campaign succeeds) and there are easily twice as many non-gravesites on the list as there are gravesites. Why wouldn’t we include the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument in a project like this?

And another idea popped into my head last night listening to this piece about Woody Guthrie, who was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie in 1912. After all, don’t most of us have at least one extended family member who was named in memory of someone else? I thought about this for a while, and then I remembered that I myself was named for a great-great relative.

What’s interesting with Guthrie is that he was born in July of 1912; Wilson hadn’t yet become president. I guess his parents weren’t big Taft or Roosevelt people. Nonetheless, I was trying to think up other notable Americans who are at least partly named for US presidents.

Inventor George Washington Carver comes to mind immediately. Carver was born into slavery, and I vaguely remember that there are many examples of parents in slavery naming their children after presidents, but I’m going to have to look into that in more detail.

Baseball fans will remember Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won an astonishing 373 games despite playing a large part of his career for the Cubs. He was not only named for a president but was played by one – Ronald Reagan starred as “Pete” Alexander in the 1952 film “The Winning Team.”

My favorite so far is Chester Arthur Burnett, who music lovers know better as Howlin’ Wolf. So when you hear “Smokestack Lightning” or “Moanin’ at Midnight” you can think of the contrast between the full-bore power of the Wolf and the slightly dandyish New Yorker for whom he was named. Might we wonder what Chester Alan Arthur might have sounded like singing “Shake For Me”? Yes, we might.

Can you think of any other famous Americans named for a Chief Executive?

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