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Barack vs. John for President
by Bruce Lansky

If you've been following the presidential campaign, you may have noticed that the contrast between the candidates' first names could hardly be greater.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama once pointed out that no American presidents looked like he does or had a "funny name" like his. Several American presidents had uncommon monikers, including: Lyndon (Johnson), Ulysses (Grant), and Woodrow (Wilson). But these presidents' common family names neutralized the uniqueness of their first names. I think Senator Obama's name is a mixed blessing-on one hand, it's a hard name to forget; on the other, it may come across as too "foreign" to many Americans.

By contrast, Republican candidate John McCain shares one of the most common first names for American presidents. (There were four named John.) Not only is John "presidential," but it is also one of America's most common names. From 1900 to 1960, John was among the five most popular names in the US; from 1970 to 2007, its ranking landed between #4 and #20.

If someone had never heard the name, he or she might answer the oft-asked question "Who is Barack Obama?" with an image of a foreigner who might not share our American values. However, because Barack Obama has been in the public spotlight for months, most people have a different image. In my latest book, 5-Star Baby Name Advisor, Senator Obama's positive image dominates Barack's image: an intelligent, confident, and charismatic African American politician.

Conversely, John is such a common name that the image isn't associated with any individual. Instead, my book shows that the name depicts a man who's a "levelheaded and hardworking All-American guy," which gives Senator McCain the benefit of having a first name that makes a solid first impression.

Ironically, the names Barack and John share the same origin: Hebrew. Barack is a variation of Barak, which means "lightning bolt." John means "God is gracious." In the waning weeks of the campaign, these two men will likely demonstrate that sharing the same name origin is the only thing they have in common.

Bruce LanskyAbout the Author:
Bruce Lansky is the #1 author of baby name books in North America. His name books have sold more than 9.5 million copies. He's called "The Baby Name Guru" because he regularly writes articles that provide baby-naming advice. His candid reviews of celebrity baby names have been reprinted in thousands of newspapers, magazines, and websites from coast to coast. His other name books include 100,000+ Baby Names, 60,000+ Baby Names, The Very Best Baby Name Book, 25,000+ Baby Names, and The New Baby Name Survey. He is also the editor of a successful series of children's poetry books and children's fiction books. Lansky resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys his work as a publisher.

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