How did the presidential election of 1880 influence baby names?

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.)


Graph of the usage of the baby name Garfield in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name 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 Social Security Administration and the Social Security Death Index:

Boys named Garfield, SSAPeople named Garfield, SSDI
188349 (rank: 222nd)48
188269 (rank: 190th)91
1881147* (rank: 88th)153
1880122 (rank: 111th)141
*Peak usage

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).


Graph of the usage of the baby name Winfield in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name 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, again both from the SSA and the SSDI:

Boys named Winfield, SSAPeople named Winfield, SSDI
188346 (rank: 236th)58
188239 (rank: 276th)57
188165 (rank: 183rd)65
1880108 (rank: 122nd)106

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.”

Which of these two candidate names, Garfield or Winfield, do you prefer? Why?


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

One thought on “How did the presidential election of 1880 influence baby names?

  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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