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  #1  
Old 12-05-2008, 10:35 PM
djrosenblatt djrosenblatt is offline
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Presidents who went by their initials

As far as I'm aware, we've had four presidents who, during their times in office, as well as historically, have been commonly referred to by their initials: FDR, JFK, LBJ, and TR (that's Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt, for the historically challenged among us).

Note that, with the possible exception of TR, even today we can casually invoke the initials of the above presidents to refer to them, and most educated listeners will know exactly who we're talking about. (I doubt, by the way, that "W" will stand the test of time as a shorthand for referring to the 43rd president, and most of the future shorthands used for him may be unprintable here.)

I suppose one of the prerequisites for the common usage of a full 3- or 4-letter presidential abbreviation is that it roll comfortably off the tongue. (Which might partly explain why our last four commanders-in-chief have never been known by their initials: they all have those awkward, 3-syllable W's in their names [GWB, WJC, GHWB, and RWR].)

Anyway, can anyone tell me if there have been any other U.S. presidents in our 220 year history who were also, at one time or another, popularly referred to by their initials?
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  #2  
Old 12-05-2008, 11:53 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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DDE was not common but not totally rare either, for Eisenhower. I haven't seen it used to any significant extent, though, since around 1970.

Added: HST for Truman was pretty much the same -- except that it has a very narrow continuing usage in some histories.

Last edited by Polycarp; 12-05-2008 at 11:56 PM..
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Old 12-06-2008, 12:47 AM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Explanation by a former J (Journalism) student: It had nothing to do with the value of a president, but with how many spaces it took to spell out his name. F'rinstance, "Johnson" took up, as I recall, seven spaces, while "LBJ" used only three. That left the headline writer four extra spaces.

Last edited by dropzone; 12-06-2008 at 12:48 AM..
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  #4  
Old 12-06-2008, 02:06 AM
ChrisBooth12 ChrisBooth12 is offline
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i think W or Dubya will stand the length of time.
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  #5  
Old 12-06-2008, 02:12 AM
Santo Rugger Santo Rugger is offline
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Originally Posted by ChrisBooth12 View Post
i think W or Dubya will stand the length of time.
Why, when GWB is much more precise, and although it's three times as long, only uses two more letters.
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  #6  
Old 12-06-2008, 03:00 AM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is offline
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Originally Posted by dropzone View Post
Explanation by a former J (Journalism) student: It had nothing to do with the value of a president, but with how many spaces it took to spell out his name.
Absolutely. The widespread usage of FDR, JFK, and LBJ was an artifact of the glory days of newspaper journalism, when newspapers (a) were important; and (b) relied on huge banner headlines, which put space at a premium, to convey important stories.

Nixon, Ford, and Truman had short names, for which headlines weren't a problem. Eisenhower had a long name, but was referred to in headlines as "Ike".

Around the time of Jimmy Carter, people stopped referring to public figures with their middle initials. So if you had been inclined to call Carter JEC or Reagan RWR, no one would have known whom you were talking about. Besides which, their names were only six letters long. Also besides which, banner headlines went out of fashion, as people came to rely on television for breaking stories.

Theodore Roosevelt as TR is different, since so far as I know it wasn't used by headline writers. It seems to have taken off since the Brands biography. He had a long first name and a long last name, and you have to use both to distinguish him from the other Roosevelt, so this shorthand has obvious value for historians. I suspect it's more common today than when he was alive.

As for W, it's hard for it to mean much by itself. If I said I was going to compare the foreign policies of FDR, Carter, and W, I would sound weird. But then, historians will have the same problem that we do in distinguishing him from his father. To call his father G.H.W. Bush is both clumsy and anachronistic, since nobody referred to him that way while he was in office. So who knows.
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Old 12-06-2008, 03:10 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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To call his father G.H.W. Bush is both clumsy and anachronistic, since nobody referred to him that way while he was in office. So who knows.
Well, Bush 41 and Bush 43 seem to have some inertia behind them, at least as blog headline-ese. Maybe 'Bush' without disambiguation will simply refer to W, given that GHWB was a one-term wonder who didn't leave much worthy of a historian's notice.
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  #8  
Old 12-06-2008, 06:40 AM
F. U. Shakespeare F. U. Shakespeare is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dropzone View Post
Explanation by a former J (Journalism) student: It had nothing to do with the value of a president, but with how many spaces it took to spell out his name. F'rinstance, "Johnson" took up, as I recall, seven spaces, while "LBJ" used only three. That left the headline writer four extra spaces.
Joel Achenbach, who used to write the 'Why Things Are' column in the Washington Post, also gave this explanation.
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  #9  
Old 12-06-2008, 07:45 AM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is online now
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All of the above having been said, I think Lyndon Johnson went out of his way to be known as LBJ. His spread in Texas was the LBJ Ranch. His wife, the former Claudia Taylor, was known as Lady Bird Johnson. His daughters were Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson. He truly loved his initials.
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  #10  
Old 12-06-2008, 08:15 AM
guizot guizot is online now
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Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
Added: HST for Truman was pretty much the same -- except that it has a very narrow continuing usage in some histories.
And Truman's middle initial didn't stand for anything. He's the only person I know of who had a middle initial but no middle name.
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  #11  
Old 12-06-2008, 08:18 AM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is online now
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Originally Posted by guizot View Post
And Truman's middle initial didn't stand for anything. He's the only person I know of who had a middle initial but no middle name.
I've known several people like that, and even a couple who had only two initials instead of a first and middle name.
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Old 12-06-2008, 09:05 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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given that GHWB was a one-term wonder who didn't leave much worthy of a historian's notice.
other than running a successful, short war, with minimal casualties and considerable international support, in defence of the basic principle that one country does not unilaterally invade another country?
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Old 12-06-2008, 09:25 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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other than running a successful, short war, with minimal casualties and considerable international support, in defence of the basic principle that one country does not unilaterally invade another country?
See? He didn't do much of interest. Well-behaved presidents who don't attempt to rewrite the whole system in favor of unchecked executive branch powers, including warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention of 'statusless' prisoners, don't get many inches of text in the history books. He didn't even set any records related to approval ratings. Compare Carter to Nixon, or Hayes to Grant.

GHWB was the guy the Republicans went with because Amon-Reagan couldn't run for a third term and the country went with because Willie Horton and Lee Atwater made a compelling team. W, on the other hand, polarized the country, rewrote our foreign policy, remade our image abroad, and is sure to generate revelations for the next few decades as people die and/or go beyond the reach of extradition treaties.
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  #14  
Old 12-06-2008, 10:06 AM
Chefguy Chefguy is offline
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Originally Posted by ChrisBooth12 View Post
i think W or Dubya will stand the length of time.
It will morph into S.O.B.
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  #15  
Old 12-06-2008, 01:46 PM
gonzomax gonzomax is offline
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Originally Posted by Polycarp View Post
DDE was not common but not totally rare either, for Eisenhower. I haven't seen it used to any significant extent, though, since around 1970.

Added: HST for Truman was pretty much the same -- except that it has a very narrow continuing usage in some histories.
Actually he was referred to as Ike more commonly.
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  #16  
Old 12-06-2008, 02:42 PM
Santo Rugger Santo Rugger is offline
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Originally Posted by guizot View Post
And Truman's middle initial didn't stand for anything. He's the only person I know of who had a middle initial but no middle name.
It's quite common. On government badges, it will be succeeded by I.O. (initial only). There is also a check box on many forms to signify this is the case, so it's at least common enough that people find it worthwhile to design forms around it.
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  #17  
Old 12-06-2008, 03:03 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
other than running a successful, short war, with minimal casualties and considerable international support, in defence of the basic principle that one country does not unilaterally invade another country?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
See? He didn't do much of interest. Well-behaved presidents who don't attempt to rewrite the whole system in favor of unchecked executive branch powers, including warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention of 'statusless' prisoners, don't get many inches of text in the history books. He didn't even set any records related to approval ratings. Compare Carter to Nixon, or Hayes to Grant.

GHWB was the guy the Republicans went with because Amon-Reagan couldn't run for a third term and the country went with because Willie Horton and Lee Atwater made a compelling team. W, on the other hand, polarized the country, rewrote our foreign policy, remade our image abroad, and is sure to generate revelations for the next few decades as people die and/or go beyond the reach of extradition treaties.
[Moderating]

Let's leave the political commentary out of this please, and stick to the OP.

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Last edited by Colibri; 12-06-2008 at 03:03 PM..
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  #18  
Old 12-06-2008, 03:04 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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It will morph into S.O.B.
Same goes for this one.
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  #19  
Old 12-06-2008, 04:27 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Many people don't know this but Abraham Lincoln prefered to go by his initials and often humorously told people to "Call me Al." Tragically, this was decades before Paul Simon's birth and there is no record of anyone getting the President's joke in his lifetime.

Secretary of War Stanton, in particular, was bewildered. "Why does the President keep calling me Betty?" he'd ask. "My name's Ed."

Last edited by Little Nemo; 12-06-2008 at 04:30 PM..
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  #20  
Old 12-06-2008, 05:00 PM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is offline
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I'm reading a biography of TR's daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and it seems he disliked being called "Teddy", and actually preferred being called "TR", or something to that effect.
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  #21  
Old 12-06-2008, 05:35 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Originally Posted by guizot View Post
And Truman's middle initial didn't stand for anything. He's the only person I know of who had a middle initial but no middle name.
Actually, turning a piece of historical trivia into a nitpick, it "stood for" both Shippe, surname of ancestors on one side of the family, and Solomon (Young), his grandfather on the other. You're correct, though, in meaning that it didn't abbreviate a name -- the initial, standing alone, was chosen by his parents to honor both ancestors without choosing between them.

And yes, "Ike" was far more common than "DDE" -- I specified the one and not the other to respond to the OP, seeking other examples of Presidents known by initials.

Nobody ever refers to Hoover as HCH, Polk as JKP, or Garfield as JAG -- But DDE, HST, and RMN (quite rare but existent) were used from time to time.

Except for TR (as noted a personal preference of the man), it seems to have been the custom from FDR through LBJ, rare for Nixon, then dying out until revived for GWB.
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  #22  
Old 12-06-2008, 06:21 PM
WoodenTaco WoodenTaco is offline
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Going way back, I've heard JQA for old John Quincy. Google agrees.
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  #23  
Old 12-06-2008, 07:08 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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I am not sure JFK was commonly used before he was assassinated. After, there were so many things named after him (airport in NY, blvd in Philly, many other things) and people probably tired of talking about John F Kennedy airport (although "kennedy airport" was--and is--occasionally heard) and just started calling them JFK Airport, JFK Blvd and so on.

To hijack this a bit, most of us remember that a great many keyboards in the White House were missing their Ws on Jan. 20, 2001. Will the Bushites retaliate by removing the Os?
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  #24  
Old 12-06-2008, 07:09 PM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
To hijack this a bit, most of us remember that a great many keyboards in the White House were missing their Ws on Jan. 20, 2001.
Is this actually true? I got the impression that story turned out to be made up.
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Old 12-06-2008, 07:33 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
I am not sure JFK was commonly used before he was assassinated.
I'm pretty sure it was. I just checked a memorial volume on the assassination, and one of the people in the crowd for his arrival at the Dallas airport that day is holding a sign saying "Welcome to Dallas J.F.K."
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  #26  
Old 12-07-2008, 01:08 AM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Many people don't know this but Abraham Lincoln prefered to go by his initials and often humorously told people to "Call me Al." Tragically, this was decades before Paul Simon's birth and there is no record of anyone getting the President's joke in his lifetime.
Tragically, that meant nobody would be his bodyguard, even if he would agree to be their long-lost pal.
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  #27  
Old 12-07-2008, 08:19 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
[Moderating]

Let's leave the political commentary out of this please, and stick to the OP.

Colibri
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sorry, Colibri - forgot which forum we were in.
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  #28  
Old 12-07-2008, 08:23 AM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
I am not sure JFK was commonly used before he was assassinated. After, there were so many things named after him (airport in NY, blvd in Philly, many other things) and people probably tired of talking about John F Kennedy airport (although "kennedy airport" was--and is--occasionally heard) and just started calling them JFK Airport, JFK Blvd and so on.
There was a joke hereabouts when he died that Newtownmountkennedy, one of the longest place names in Ireland was to be renamed Newtownmountjohnfitzgeraldkennedy in his honour.
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Old 12-07-2008, 09:50 AM
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All of the above having been said, I think Lyndon Johnson went out of his way to be known as LBJ. His spread in Texas was the LBJ Ranch. His wife, the former Claudia Taylor, was known as Lady Bird Johnson. His daughters were Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson. He truly loved his initials.
Don't forget his dog -- Little Beagle Johnson*

*No, this is not a joke.
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