Forget the campaign going on in the rest of the country. Jesse and Jennifer Nielsen are in the midst of a presidential election within their own household.
Should they vote for Reagan? Opt for Kennedy?
The Arlington couple needs to choose a presidential namesake for their fourth child.
The Nielsens have three children, all named for presidents: Grant, 4, for Ulysses S., who was in the White House from 1869 to 1877; Madison, 2, for our fourth president, James; and little girl McKinley, 1, named for William, who was elected in 1896.
They’re expecting their fourth in May. Since five presidents have shared surnames with a predecessor, the Nielsens are down to just 36 options to choose from.
Some names are clearly out: Can you imagine baby Fillmore, Van Buren or Buchanan? Not hardly.
This baby will be a girl, which rules out more. A boy could be named for President Arthur (21st president Chester A., that is) or Jackson (Andrew, seventh president) or Harrison (either Benjamin, No. 23, or William Henry, No. 9). But not a daughter.
“There’s no one choice, really, that we’re like, ‘Oh, we really like that one,’ ” Jennifer Nielsen said.
And everywhere they turn, they get more advice.
One friend pointed out that presidents Grant, McKinley and Madison, appear on the $50, $500 and $5,000 bills, respectively. He opined that 50-cent coin Kennedy would be the best fit for an obscure monetary theme.
Even Grant’s preschool class has gotten in on the task. The 4-year-old’s teacher went through the list of presidents of the United States, asking the children which name they preferred for Grant’s baby sister.
Grant, Madison and McKinley Nielsen are still a bit young to understand the weight of history that comes with their names. They have received books about presidents for birthdays, and their parents have taken them to the White House for family photographs, dressed in red, white and blue.
“Who lives in the White House?” Jennifer asks, and Grant responds, “Bock Obama!”
“Everyone that lives in the White House, you guys have a name similar to,” his mom tells him. Grant, unmoved, keeps playing Minecraft on an iPad.
Madison babbles on about her new sister as she snacks on popcorn and raisins. “I want it to be a girl. I’m gonna be a big sister. My baby. I’m gonna paint her room.”
Her mother asks her what the baby’s name should be, and Madison responds with her favorite theme: “Princess!”
Grant chimes in with a name suggestion, too: “Doo Gada.”
The Nielsens didn’t set out to saddle their children with presidential expectations.
In fact, Civil War general Ulysses wasn’t on their mind at all when they named their first son. Grant was simply the only name that Jesse, who owns a government contracting firm, and Jennifer, who works a few hours a week at an organization that deals with refugee issues, could agree on.
Jesse, 35, and Jennifer, 33, did have James Madison in mind when they named their now-almost-3-year-old daughter, who usually goes by Maddie. The couple met at James Madison University and wanted to pay tribute to the institution.
Only after baby Madison was born did their friends point out that Grant was a president, too.
At that point, a presidential name still wasn’t a mandate. They debated when they were expecting their third child – stick with the theme? Or give her a nonpresidential name?
The theme won.
They named her McKinley, the most obviously presidential name yet.
“The first thing my brother said was, ‘Oh, McKinley was assassinated,’ ” Jennifer said.
That was going to be true no matter what they named their third child – they would have gone with Lincoln if they had had a boy.
Now they’ve marked themselves as the presidential family. Everywhere she goes, Jennifer says, acquaintances ask which president’s name this fourth baby will get. Friends have suggested Taylor (Zachary, No. 12). Ford (Gerald, No. 38). Tyler (John, No. 10).
“So many people are into this now, and they come up with facts and tell us,” Jennifer said.
One consideration is off the table: the president’s politics. The Nielsens, who are Republicans, decided when McKinley was born that if they were comfortable naming their daughter after a man whose life ended in assassination, then they were comfortable naming her for a Democrat.
“We already decided, there’s too few names to be that selective,” Jennifer said. “It has to be about what we want to call the kids, not who the presidents were.”
For the moment, Reagan seems to be ahead in the family’s polling, followed by Kennedy and Monroe. Or maybe Pierce, Jennifer adds.
At least they know they won’t be combing the list of the 44 presidents’ names a fifth time. After baby Reagan – or Kennedy, or Pierce – is born, their presidential family will be complete.