Garfield vs. Winfield, 1880

The presidential election of 1880 involved two men with “-field” names: Republican candidate James A. Garfield, and Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock.

The nominees were chosen in June of 1880, the votes were cast in November, and Garfield was declared the winner — but it was a close race. (“Among presidents who won the popular vote, Garfield’s margin of victory remains the narrowest in history.”)

And the closeness of the race was mirrored in the resultant increases in usage of the baby names “Garfield” and “Winfield” in 1880. (Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge how much higher this usage was than usual because the SSA data only goes back to 1880.)

Garfield

According to the SSA data, the name Garfield was the 111th most popular baby name in the U.S in 1880. It rose even higher the next year — no doubt because James A. Garfield was the winner of the election, though perhaps also because he was assassinated in September — a mere 6 months after being sworn in. After that, the name saw a steep drop in usage.

Here’s the data, both from the SSA and from the Social Security Death Index:

Garfield in SSA (rank)Garfield in SSDI
188349 baby boys (222nd)48 people
188269 baby boys (190th)91 people
1881147 baby boys (88th)153 people
1880122 baby boys (111th)141 people
1879?24 people
1878?4 people

The surname Garfield originally referred to a triangle-shaped field. The Old English word gara, meaning “triangular piece of land,” is related to gar, “spear” (as spearheads were triangular).

Winfield

The SSA data shows that the name Winfield was the 122nd most popular baby name in the U.S. in 1880. Unlike Garfield, though, it began slipping in 1881 — right after Winfield Scott Hancock lost the election.

Here’s the data, both from the SSA and from the Social Security Death Index:

Winfield in SSA (rank)Winfield in SSDI
188346 baby boys (236th)58 people
188239 baby boys (276th)57 people
188165 baby boys (183rd)65 people
1880108 baby boys (122nd)106 people
1879?32 people
1878?16 people

Winfield Scott Hancock* was a lifelong military commander, so it’s fitting that he was named in honor of an earlier military commander: Winfield Scott. (Scott’s first name was his maternal grandmother’s maiden name.)

The surname Winfield could refer to any of various locations in England. Depending upon the specific location, the Old English first element of the name could be wynn, meaning “meadow, pasture”; wince, short for hleapwince, “lapwing“; weoh, “(pre-Christian) temple”; or Wiga, a personal name derived from wig, “war.”

So now let’s try a poll. Which name do you prefer, Garfield or Winfield? Tell me why in the comments!

Cast your vote: Garfield, or Winfield?

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Sources:

*Hancock also had an identical twin brother, Hilary Baker Hancock, who seems to have been named for former Philadelphia mayor Hilary Baker.

One thought on “Garfield vs. Winfield, 1880

  1. Both have associations that are too strong for me to even consider them as useable names.

    Garfield is obviously the cat.

    Winfield was (is?) a cigarette company … not sure if this was just here in Australia. In any case the slogan was everywhere when I was growing up and cigarette advertising was prevalent. So my first thought was “Anyhow, have a Winfield”.

    Associations aside, and trying to look at it objectively, I voted for Winfield because ‘Win’ is more appealing to my ear than ‘Gar’.

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