Presidents known by their initials


But not HST, DDE, RMN. Why some Presidents and not others? Is it just euphony, some initials roll off the tongue more easily than others? Do the media decide these things? Or were the initial guys known by them prior to their Presidency and just carried on using them?

Any initial Presidents I’ve omitted?

Well sometimes Bush the second is referred to just as W. Certainly if it were known you were talking about a President and just said W, I’d expect people to know whom you were referring to.




Sometimes just two initials suffice. TR.

Sometimes the press gloms onto a silly nickname. Candidate (unsuccessful) BMG, for example, was widely known by the cutesy nickname AuH2O.

While Khrushchev was in power, the Western press commonly referred to him simply as K.

ETA: Nixon was, in fact, occasionally referred to as RMN, IIRC.

FDR is a handy way of saying “Roosevelt. No not that one, the other one. Franklin, not Teddy.” JFK is a handy way of saying “Kennedy. No, not Joseph Kennedy, the other guy.” W is a handy way of saying “Bush. No, not the first one, the second one.” In all three cases, there was a previous person with the same last name who was already famous in American politics. I’m not sure how well this applies to LBJ. I’m sure there have been TONS of people named Johnson but I don’t know which of them might have been famous in American politics.

But it also helps that the initials are shorter and easier to say. I don’t think it will happen with Hillary Rodham Clinton because HRC isn’t any shorter than simply saying “Hillary”. But imagine if our next president was named Norquist Everhardt Franklin. I’m confident he’d be remembered as NEF to avoid confusion with the guy who’s on the hundred dollar bill.

It is easier to write, though, and I have seen it in print a few times.

I actually do see Hillary referred to as HRC at times. And it’ll be handy to differentiate between her and Bill this way, just as handy as FDR, JFK and W were as differentiators.

I saw a crossword puzzle clue once that was “Successor to HST”. I was at a loss to figure out how to fit “Next Generation Space Telescope” into three letters, until I realized that the intended answer was DDE.

[forbidden political jab, may the mods forgive me]
Heaven forfend we should find ourselves with President Norquist.
[/forbidden political jab, may the mods forgive me]

That’s a common thing in crossword clues – If the clue is plural, that tells you the answer is plural; if the clue is an acronym or abbrev., that tells you the answer is an acronym or abbrev.; if the clue ends with a question mark, the answer if often a pun or some other kind of “trick” answer, and so on.

Who will be “Successor to BHO”?

Will it be HRC? DJT? REC? (Who???) Or that guy with apparently no middle initial, BS?

ETA: BTW, I don’t think that guy on the hundred dollar bill was ever actually President. (For those wondering why old Ben Franklin never was president, despite his obvious fame and popularity at the time – well, he was old. According to a history that I read of the 1787 Consitutional Convention, he was already quite elderly and rather crippled at the time, requiring assistants to carry him on a sedan chair up the stairs to the second-floor convention room.)

Ummmmm. Andrew?

FDR, JFK, and LBJ were creations of newspaper headline writers in an era when newspapers were a dominant news medium and liked to compete with big, screaming headlines in which line space was at a premium. Later Presidents had shorter last names (Nixon, Ford) and/or seldom (Reagan) or never (Carter) used their middle initials. By the 1990’s it no longer mattered because newspapers, where they existed in print form at all, no longer relied on big block headlines to convey breaking news.

Wasn’t DDE usually referred to as Ike?

Yes. I don’t think he was ever referred to as DDE outside of crossword puzzles. Check this Google Ngram chart.

It’s all about the headlines.

It started with FDR. “Roosevelt” is nine characters*. It took up a lot of space, so headline writers started with the abbreviation. The presidents before him – Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover were all shorter, and headlines were more formal, so abbreviation seemed disrespectful. “FDR” came about as things became less formal due to the Depression, and it stuck – it’s only three letters, which gave headline writers more space (and one or two character can make a big difference when formulating a headline).

When Truman came along, it’s six letters, so the abbreviation wasn’t necessary. Then came Eisenhower, for which “Ike” became standard.** “Kennedy” was seven letters and the idea of a nickname became entrenched, so “JFK” is was. Same for Johnson. “Nixon,” though, was only five letters (and the “i” was half width), so there was no need. Then came a bunch of short presidential names: Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama. None are more than six letters (and “Clinton” had two thin letters, making it five letters for headline use). So the practice has died out. The candidates this year – Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and Cruz – all have short names, so I doubt the tradition will be revived.

As for HST, I doubt it was regularly used for Truman until recently. The nGram viewer shows no jump in the term at the time he became president, which is clear when looking at FDR and JFK. It’s probably the same for TR, though nGram doesn’t help, since the term was used to abbreviate “translate.” But headlines were wordier during his presidency, so the longer name wasn’t a problem.

As a side note, the New York Times refused to use these nicknames. They had a special font made for “Eisenhower” to help it fit into their headlines.

*Actually, the values for the various letters were different in headline writing of the time, but I don’t know all the values. It was something like lower case being 1, letters like “i” being 1/2, letters like “w” being 1 1/2, upper case 1 1/2 - 3, etc.

**Eisenhower didn’t like that nickname at all.

Yes, but given the clue as written, since it mentions HST in the clue, the convention for most American crosswords is that the answer is in the same format, as Senegoid explained. If the clue was something like “Successor to Give 'Em Hell Harry,” then “Ike” would be appropriate.


The newspapers wanted names which could be typeset easily and fit into small spaces.
‘Eisenhower’ way too long - he was known as Ike
‘Kennedy’ was lengthy, JFK was much easier.
‘Nixon’ was short enough, no need for initials
‘Bush’ certainly did not need shortening.
‘Truman’ was OK
‘Roosevelt’? are you kidding? - initials used.

Now that everything is online, maybe a long name can be used.

Johnson’s ranch’s brand was his three initials. This probably helped solidify the use of LBJ in political circles and eventually the press.

It wasn’t just the ranch, but the whole family (counting his wife’s nickname, Lady Bird) had the initials LBJ. Those initals were already a thing, you might say.

Other initials used at the time were RFK and HHH (Humphrey). I don’t think any other politicians of that era were refered to by initials. At least I don’t remember anyone talking about EJM (Eugene McCarthy) or GSM (George McGovern) or even EMK (Edward Kennedy).