The Brady Bunch? In. Dave and Jen? Out. Oh, and women? Yeah, they’re still out too. Those are a few of the conclusions from a review of the names that rule in American government.
I tallied the given names of over 900 current high-ranking US public servants, including congresspeople, cabinet members, state governors and federal judges. (*See methodology notes below.) My goal was to find out which names were most common, which were overrepresented and which were underrepresented at the highest levels of political power.
The first result is predictable, yet a little overwhelming in its strength: male names utterly dominate. The top 10 names in American politics are all male. Even everyone on the power list named Kelly, Jody, Lindsey, Tracy or Leslie is male. In all, powerful men vastly outnumber women, and the name stats skew accordingly.
Beyond gender, names in power naturally mirror names in the general population. For instance, the top three most common names in politics are the super-popular classics Michael, John and James. But some names punch above their weight. I compared names’ frequency rankings in my political list with their rankings among all Americans born 1940-1990 (representing the politician-aged public) to identify the most disproportionately powerful names in U.S. politics.
|MALE POWER NAMES||FEMALE POWER NAMES|
|#1. Peter||#1. Marcia|
|#2. Andrew||#2. Katherine|
|#3. John||#3. Deborah|
|#4. Gregory||#4. Michelle|
Marcia takes the #1 overall power rating. The name ranks just #173 in popularity among American women, but is a top-5 name among women in politics—tied with Mary, the #1 name among adult women.
Looking at the top of the power list, readers of a certain age might find themselves humming the theme to The Brady Bunch. Marcia, Peter and Greg were three of the kids on that classic 1970s sitcom. It’s not pure coincidence. The creators of the TV series chose trendy hit names of the 1950s and ’60, when the characters would have been born. That Brady name generation is now at the peak of power.
That’s the top of the heap. The names at the bottom, the names most underrepresented in politics, are even more telling. Take a look at some extremely popular female names that rank far lower than expected in the power ratings:
What the five names most obviously have in common is their length in syllables. American female names have more syllables on average than male names, yet all the names at the top of the female power list are two syllables. (Yes, you can argue about Katherine and Deborah, but I don’t think you’ll win.) No high-ranked power name has the strongly feminine sound and purely female origin of a name like Melissa.
This trend fits with past research suggesting that names with strong feminine markers are underrepresented in traditionally male-dominated fields. It’s also notable that the boyish names Eddie, Johnnie, Jacky and Mikie outnumber the five popular long names above among the political women. Jessica and Jennifer’s day may still lie ahead, but for now, long and distinctly feminine names remain on the outside of Washington power circles.
One male name, a nickname, also stands out for its absence in the corridors of power: Dave. Nicknames are usually the darlings of modern politics; just ask Joe Biden, Mike Pence, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell. Their shortened forms suggest a friendly, trusted intimacy, and voters instinctively warm to them. Almost all the elected officials in my tally with names like Thomas, Peter, Joseph and William choose to go by nicknames instead. Among elected Michaels, Stevens and Roberts the Mike, Steve and Bob rate is about two-thirds. And among Davids, the Dave rate is…zero. Not one of the many Davids I tallied goes by Dave.
It seems that there’s something different about Dave. It’s perceived as even more casual than other nicknames, and less complete. Popularity statistics bear this out. Compared to the other classic nicknames, Dave has seldom been bestowed as a given name. Even in 1960, when David was America’s #1 name, the name Dave didn’t crack the top 100—while Mike, Steve, Jeff, Tony, Joe, Tim, Chris, Johnny, Billy, Jimmy, Bobby, Jim, Willie, Greg, Tom, Ronnie, Bill, Jon and Rick all did.
Dave appears to stand alone as the ubiquitous, friendly nickname America isn’t willing to bank on. Sorry, buddy.
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*Methodological notes: The political list includes current state governors, members of congress, cabinet-level federal officials, federal appellate court judges, the president, vice-president, and Supreme Court justices. For my tally, I used the names that the political leaders identify themselves by (e.g. Mitt Romney rather than Willard M. Romney) but I combined nicknames with their formal sources, and combined spelling variants. So, for instance, the political total for Steven includes Stephens and Steves. Power ratings are based on a ratio of rank in the general adult population vs. rank in the political list.