One of the interesting thing about Hillary Clinton’s totally expected announcement that she’s running for president is that her campaign is being called “Hillary for America.” Interesting less because of The West Wing connection and more because of the “Hillary” part.

It may not be exactly the same as the long list of celebrities known by their first names. But Hillary Clinton has become known simply as Hillary in bumper stickers and headlines, on Twitter and Facebook, around water coolers and in coffee shops.

Yet some Americans, mostly women, don’t think the former secretary of state, U.S. senator from New York and first lady should be called by just her first name.

“I think it’s pretty unjust,” said Monica Warek, 23, on a recent visit to Washington from New York City. “I think it shows the level of inequality that still exists in the workforce and just in general in society.”

As Clinton gets ready to kick off her campaign for the White House, some wonder whether calling a female candidate by her first name reinforces gender stereotypes.

Or does it make her seem more personable?

hrcI’ve generally taken pains to avoid referring to her as just Hillary. I haven’t been 100%, but I refer to her as HRC quite a bit, or Clinton when I don’t think she will be confused with her husband. The husband thing is what makes it difficult, and useful, to consider referring to her by her first name. But I have resisted for a couple of reasons:

The first I more generally prefer not to use informal names when referring to politicians and presidents specifically. I almost never referred George W. Bush as W or Dubya, much less Shrub. It’s part of a general preference of formality when dealing with our leaders.

The second is sexism, both baseless accusations and out of genuine concern. The article deals more with #2. I don’t think I would refer to Hillary Rodham Clinton as Hillary for a sexist reason. Whatever thoughts I had about her position as a teammate of her husband’s has not been the case for some time. Her tenure as secretary of state has done a great deal towards positioning her less as a teammate and more as an independent actor. And though I prefer Romney to Mitt, I would say the latter. And perhaps most pertinently, I almost exclusively use Jeb to refer to John Ellis Bush. The pertinence of the last being that the first name is for the exact same reason: To avoid confusion with more prominent people with the same surname.

JebIf Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, her tenure will make her “Clinton” throughout the same way that GWB became “Bush” throughout his. It’s the former president that gets the first-name treatment or some other qualifier. For Bill it will be Bill, for Georges it will be the H or the W. When GWB was president, I referred to his father as George H Bush, Bush the Elder, or the First Bush. Now that both are former presidents, I only rarely use Bush by itself – unless it’s completely obvious who I am referring to – and go with GWB or Bush the Younger.

Since the campaign is called Hillary for America – and since she presently does not hold office – I will generally stop trying as hard as I do to avoid referring to her as just Hillary until she takes office.


Category: Statehouse

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

4 Responses to Hillary

  1. Do you ever say “Bush II” or “Bush Jr.” (or “Bush I” or “Bush Sr.”)? I used to, and probably still do, but I can see how they can be pejorative, especially the “I” and “II,” inasmuch as they imply a dynasty.

    At the risk of being an oldperson’splainer, I wonder how much the 23-year-old’s concern about sexism, as cited in the quoted article, has to do with her probably not having much of a memory of Bill as president. To me, when I think “Clinton,” I almost always think “President (Bill) Clinton” unless it’s qualified further as “Secretary Clinton” or “Senator Clinton.”

  2. James Hanley says:

    I have a hard time buying this as sexism. Is Beyonce known by her first name because, being a woman, we don’t take her seriously? Or is it because as a performer she’s reached that peak position where she’s not going to be confused with anyone else?

    And what about all the men who are often known by just one name? Pele, Bono, Voltaire, Rembrandt, Napolean, Ike, Che, Groucho? I guess we really didn’t respect Ike, since we called him by his nickname even (like W).

    I wouldn’t say this on certain fora, but I think there’s a segment of the feminist population that’s jumped the shark, what with this and all the demands that women be protected from unpleasant ideas. It’s become a game of “if I can imagine a way in which it might be sexist, then it’s definitive proof of patriarchy.”

    • trumwill says:

      When Clancy was a resident in Deseret, a number of her colleagues declined to call her “Dr Himmelreich” even in front of patients instead referring to her as Clancy. This seemed to happen to none of the male doctors (though it did not happen with all of the female ones, either – seemed to depend on LDS membership status). Which either Clancy quietly accepts or (as she chose to do) becomes the person who “makes a big deal out of it.”

      So I’m kind of sensitive to this, which I suspect has informed my tendency to avoid “Hillary”

      But! She appears to have embraced it. So whatever argument there was against it in her case has been kneecapped.

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