With regard to voting in America in November of 2016, I have not yet made up my mind as to whether I should vote based on more or less syllables. About that same quandary, by the way, I would wager that the voters of the United States have not done so either. Yet if one does decide to vote based on syllables—which may prove to be the most sensible way to determine one’s vote in an election like this—one might think, “the less syllables, the better,” or, conversely, one might prefer a more robust number.
Take our current president, Barak Obama, for example. His name, even without his two-syllable middle name, has a solid five syllables. In 2012 clearly America was favoring richer, fuller names. Mitt Romney lagged behind the president by a solid two syllables, as did John McCain, four years before.
But it was not always this way. In 2000, when Americans cast their Floridian chads in an election between George Bush and Al Gore—can you imagine a more concise name than either of those?—Americans witnessed the closest election in years. In those not too distant days, short names—one syllable names—were quite obviously in vogue, even “hashtag trending” for politicians. (Perhaps those chads were in fact the prototypes of modern-day hashtags.)
Yet if one goes back just a generation or two before them, one can see that Bill Clinton had three, and inasmuch as George Bush had but two, he did not win reelection, even though he had an H. and a W. linking his George with his Bush.
Ronald Reagan had four syllables, and with his Wilson he had six, and before that James Carter bumped his up to four, undoubtedly in an attempt to gain the popular vote, by using a name from his childhood—Jimmy. Should have stuck with James. Bill Clinton didn’t decide to stake political fortune on Billy, did he?
Before President Carter, of course, Gerald Ford had three and Richard Nixon, even when known as “Dick” also had, at a minimum, that same number, though his Richard sounded far more dignified. But no doubt tricky Dick Nixon, as he was sometimes dubbed, enjoyed the unique capacity to shorten or lengthen his Dick, as the occasion might demand. Further, I ween, his nickname set a bad precedent for the likes of Bill Clinton, whose “William Jefferson,” once fully unfurled, towered over his Bill and was generally more appealing than Richard Nixon’s flaccid “Dick.”
I won’t mention, either, Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose name was far more august than his accent or his wife’s quite strange (I always thought) avian name. And before Johnson, of course, the right honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a mouthful, despite the monosyllabic first name and endearing nickname, Jack. Dwight D. Eisenhower was loaded with syllables, even without his middle initial or full name (D. for David), and Harry Truman—well, his name was well balanced. He was a good human being, I think, though he faced the horrific decision of
dropping a nuclear bomb. And I could go on, to polysyllabic presidents like the two Roosevelts, whether you pronounce their first syllable “Rose” or “Ruse” or “Ruze.” And what about Ted Cruze, whose non-endorsement made big news, and may cause his views, for the party platform, to lose and Texas reds turn to blues? Mais quel ennui (“What a snooze”). His name was simply too short, anyway.
And where does that leave us? Well, let’s consider the candidates by syllable, not by their policies, which they’re likely to change after the election anyway as a good many do. But they’re not likely to change their names, not likely to add a syllable, albeit in recent days Bruce did become Kaitlyn; but Donald and Hillary are not likely to do so. So what does our country want these days, more or less syllables? The veeps are all even, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence. Nothing all that exciting about those names (or those individuals, for that matter), both one syllable each. But the top of the ticket—that’s where the action is. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. Hillary has five total syllables to work with, Donald only three. Are we in an election cycle where the longer names are in vogue again? Ronald Reagan was elected with four, but Trump has but three, though he’s been quite imitative of President Reagan’s campaign. His coming up one short in his name parallels his adoption of President Reagan’s campaign slogan for which Mr. Trump has appropriately enough eliminated one syllable, “Let’s” from “Make America Great Again.” (Yes, “Let’s Make America Great Again” was Ronald Reagan’s slogan in his campaign against President Carter.)
Now when you think about it, Reagan was matching with his four syllables the same number in Jimmy Carter’s name, but Jimmy is no less the real first name of Mr. Carter than Bill is Bill Clinton’s. On that logic, Hillary Clinton should win, as she has five to match Barak Obama’s five. Perhaps that solves the riddle and befits the title of this blog? Yet isn’t she just a bit too much like President Obama in her political views, whereas President Reagan was quite different that President Carter? I’m not sure, because I’m really only interested in syllables, but still, that bit is curious—I mean the bit about their dichotomous approaches to governing.
Yet Mr. Trump has one thing up his sleeve that he can use to approximate Hillary’s widening lead in syllables. It is not his middle name, which is disappointingly short: John. No, Donald Trump’s advantage is the definite article. That definite article has been used to great advantage by England’s royal family, for example. One does not walk into a pub there and boldly proclaim “God save Queen!” That sounds like a prayer too late for the late Freddie Mercury. Rather, one says, “God Save the Queen!” One speaks not about “Prince of Wales,” as if he were “Game of Thrones.” Rather, one rightly and dignifiedly calls him “The Prince of Wales.” (God only knows if he will live long enough to be The King of England.) And I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea.
So, as you go into this election cycle, my advice is to count the syllables and choose wisely. As attractive an idea as it may be that there be a woman in the White House, do you really want another five-syllable president? Perhaps it’s too many syllables, too much like the current number of syllables. On the other hand, if you’re a syllabically motivated voter but prefer the Republican ticket, you can always add a “The” to Donald, and make him The Donald John Trump, and there’s your five. That should do it. Or, if you’d like it shorter, try Donald Trump sans The and sans John; maybe even Don Trump? Sounds a bit too much like Don Juan. And I doubt, too, that you can or should say “Hill Clinton”—or can you? If, in the end, Mr. Trump gives you greater syllabic dexterity, that should not necessarily suggest he has greater experience, nor greater political wisdom—after all, Secretary Clinton has dexterously survived a political scandal that might have landed a lesser man in jail—but The Donald, if I may, does have syllabic flexibility on his side and, though he looks rather non-athletic to me, apparently knows his way around a locker room.
Now, in spite of the title of this blog, please don’t let my syllabic counting, expansive or foreshortening as it may be, influence you in the least. As for me, I haven’t yet decided how seriously to take the syllabic differences between these candidates. Perhaps if I just repeat their names over and over again, it will eventually occur to me which of the two is better, or rather which is worse. In any case, many a happy syllable to you in this quite unusual election year.