Celebrity Names Blog

The Owen Wilson Baby Name Smackdown!

The Owen Wilson Baby Name Smackdown!
RAM/Fame Pictures

Kapow! Commenters on the Owen Wilson baby name post took us to task for failing to mention that new son Ford Linton Wilson's name is, besides the model-T connection, also a presidential name.

Fair enough, although the guy is hardly a dream namesake. President Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States, was the only president never elected to office. He served three years on an appointment after the resignations of President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1973. He was an unpopular president, presiding over the worst economy this counry had seen since the Great Depression.

We asked Laura Wattenberg, co-founder and guru of our site, for insight into the fortunes of Ford. She told us: "Ford is the rare name that actually declined when the President took office. It was ultra-rare at that point anyway, but virtually disappeared. The fact that Ford was never elected VP or President might have taken off some of the victorious sheen that new president names usually carry."

However, even this new president's "sheen" (rather, we imagine, like a new car smell) isn't the primary motivation for those choosing presidential namers. Back in 2005, Wattenberg wrote on our sister site, BabyNameWizard.com, "Every presidential surname except Van Buren, Fillmore, Buchanan and Eisenhower has made the top-1000 name list at some point in the past 125 years. Today, though, parents are a little more wary about granting namesakes. They wait to see how the presidency is going to play out before committing a child's name to the cause."

Wattenberg ventures a guess that most parents naming their babies Taylor, Tyler, or Carter today ar more motivated by style than by statesmanship. "Most of the top choices fit stylish categories that I've discussed before, such as tradesman names (Taylor, Carter), and surnames that contract to traditional nicknames (Jefferson, Harrison)."

Still think a desk in the oval office secures a name's cachet? Consider Madison. If you'll recall, in the 1984 movie Splash, Daryl Hannah's mermaid character plucks the name Madison from a street sign, much to the chagrin of Tom Hanks. To all real humans, Madison is self-evidently a ridiculous name for a human woman.

And that brings us to another nominally presidential name that once signaled how out-of-step a non-human character was with contemporary naming culture. In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (first published in novel form in 1979), an alien come to study Planet Earth signals his outsider status through his choice of name. Writes Adams, "He had made one careless blunder... the information he had gathered had led him to choose the name 'Ford Prefect' as nicely inconspicuous." Ford Prefect was, at the time, a popular model of British sedan. In the contemporary US setting, he might have been Ford Focus. (More probably, he'd have dubbed himself Hyundai Sonata.)

Ah, but things have a way of changing, don't they? Madison, the former joke name, is a runaway hit. And Ford has become the subject of today's Name Smackdown! question: Do presidential names hold more sway today? Or the names of automobiles?

For your consideration, we offer this list of the 2009 rankings of various names.

  • Sienna - #196
  • Lexus - (peaked at #660, currently 0)
  • Mercedes - #643
  • Cooper - #84
  • Bentley - #518
  • Royce - #940
  • Marquis - #614
  • Lincoln - #188
  • Reagan - #128
  • Carter - #50
  • Taylor - #22 for girls, #248 for boys
  • Tyler - #28
  • Jefferson - #587
  • Kennedy - #114
  • Harrison - #242
  • Jackson - #25

Our conclusions: both cars' and (pre-Bush) presidents' names are hot. (Just check out the popularity curves for Bentley and Lincoln.) Now, if these parents could just add a saint for a middle name, these are names even a vicar could love.

Your thoughts on Ford:

(a) It's a car name!

(b) It's a president name!

(c) It proves Owen Wilson is an alien!

(d) I don't know, but it's destined to rise.

Let us know in the comments.

--L.R. + J.B.

Comments

Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

January 18, 2011 11:12 AM
By Manda (not verified)

I'd vote that it is a Presidential name.

January 18, 2011 1:32 PM
By Heather A (not verified)

I was a wee tyke when Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential race, but I remember my sister and I wanted Ford to win because we thought he was named after our family's car. I'd almost forgotten about President Ford; so, I'd vote it's definitely a car name.

January 18, 2011 1:44 PM
By Heather D (not verified)

It makes me think of Hollywood stardom (Harrison Ford) and not so much of presidents or cars (though we're a Ford family, all the way)

January 18, 2011 2:21 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Car name

January 18, 2011 4:06 PM
By Elizabeth T. (not verified)

The kid should have been named Ford Lincoln. Then he could have had car and president names for both of his names!

January 18, 2011 4:31 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a Michigander and Ford is a President and a car although I think of Henry Ford and his family (with names like Edsel and William) more than an actual car when I hear the name.

January 18, 2011 9:00 PM
By shadelit (not verified)

While I recognize the presidential and automotive aspects of the name, I also think of film star Harrison Ford, and the actual meaning of the name: a river crossing, to ford a creek. I considered it briefly when pregnant with my own son, due to both mine and my husband's last names being river-related, though ultimately rejected it as my husband couldn't shake the car association.

January 18, 2011 10:10 PM
By Kira (not verified)

I vote that it's a nature name. According to dictionary.com, a ford is "a place where a river or other body of water is shallow enough to be crossed by wading."

My daughter's name is Sequoia, and some people actually believe Toyota invented the name - and that I named my daughter not after the beautiful state tree of her birthplace - but after an SUV.

January 19, 2011 4:39 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know someone named after Ford....his name is Gerald! I think Gerald is rare enough that you do think "president" as opposed to a name like "James."

January 19, 2011 8:54 AM
By Aislidh (not verified)

C.

January 19, 2011 10:26 AM
By Melanie (not verified)

Ok, Elizabeth T made me say it - like Ford Lincoln Mercury, from the postman. That's all I can think of when I see a kid named Ford.

I know a Ford, but its short for half of his middle name which is his mother's maiden name, I think. Something like Fordham? His first name is something innocuous, like John.

January 19, 2011 10:29 AM
By Melanie (not verified)

Again, I'm reminded of Ford Lincoln Mercury from the Postman.

January 19, 2011 1:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

People mag is now saying the name is Robert Ford Wilson, which I think is a great name.

January 19, 2011 2:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

what was Pierce, Arthur, Wilson, Hayes even? Presidential names but not as clearly defined of course.

Also for cars - Austin even though it's really Aston I know a dad who named his kid Austin because of Aston Martin - or Romeo maybe, for Alfa Romeo - or Porsche (which sounds similar to Portia)

I guess no one wants to name their kid Fiat.

January 19, 2011 8:37 PM
By Emily (not verified)

Right now I wish this was facebook so I could "like" some of the comments- specifically Elizabeth T. & Kira!

And my first thought is car, but I love choice (C)!

January 19, 2011 10:17 PM
By Allison Margaret (not verified)

I just think of Ford as a surname. Ford automobiles bear Henry Ford's surname, and while Gerald Ford is a famous bearer, it's still just a surname to me, just like presidential names Carter or Wilson and non-presidential names Sullivan and Parker. Enough people have it, and none of those people are iconic enough, for it to have a single association for me. (Examples of surnames that ARE tied to one person in my mind are Reagan and Presley.)

January 23, 2011 11:14 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I actually actually know 3 Fords (though 2 are nicknames). In real life, it wears perfectly well. Though not my personal style, it seems like a natural choice for the laid-back Wilson.

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