One thing I often talk about in my talks at Governors Island is the way Americans used to name their offspring. It comes up when we’re standing in front of the Commanding Officers House and discussing Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock was of course named after Old Fuss and Feathers himself, Winfield Scott. Hancock’s own father was Benjamin Franklin Hancock. I wouldn’t put too fine a point on it, but naming one’s children after famous Americans was a way for people to identify with the fledgling nation in the early years of the Republic. Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s father was Winfield Scott Lovecraft. Then there is Benjamin Franklin Butler, John Quincy Adams Ward. There is no shortage of examples.
This was a phenomenon that lasted into the twentieth century but seems to have fizzled out around the time of the Great War. I have no way of knowing for sure, but it doesn’t seem anyone was naming their kids after John Pershing or other military figures from that conflict. I suppose by 1918 people were too jaded and the culture just moved on. There was a bit of an uptick during the Depression and WW2 when many named their kids after Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The reason I bring this up is because of this image I stumbled upon the other day. The caption explains it all. With a little digging I learned that a William H. Signet in Pennsylvania named his twentieth child Theodore Roosevelt Signet. In appreciation the president sent Mr. Signet a letter of thanks in 1903. The image above was taken on November 10, 1923, just three weeks after Roosevelt House opened. What I find striking is the width of the age gap within the group. The Theodore Roosevelts you see here ranged from ten months to twenty-five years old.