Here’s a relevant self-reblog from a few years ago, in honor of Woody Guthrie’s birthday today.
Nate returned from a Sturdevant family reunion in the ancestral homeland of Maryland a few years ago, and reported back that there are a few relatives, living and dead, bearing the name “Woodrow Wilson Sturdevant.”
This was a popular given name for at least one or two generations, or at least in Democratic families (which the Sturdevants largely have been for most of the past 100 years). Woodrow Wilson hardly looks like a liberal to us today with his gruesome views on race, but he was admired at the time as a paragon of efficient, mainstream American liberalism. Wilson was elected president in 1912, and if you look at the Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names, you can see it became a common name very quickly, beginning that year. The popularity of “Woodrow” jumped to #46 that year, up from #234 in 1911, and #544 two years before that.
WIlson himself was named for his maternal grandfather, Dr. Thomas Woodrow. In fact, “Woodrow” doesn’t seem to have been a first name at all until the first part of the 20th century (it debuts on the Social Security rolls in 1907).
For a few years after, until 1919 when he left office, “Woodrow” was one of the 100 most popular names in America. It began to slip off the radar through the 1920s, as Wilson faded from memory. By 1984, it had dropped completely off the list of the thousand most popular names in America. It’s still not on that list — consider that last year, Jax, Joan, Bridger, Memphis, Kohen, Gaige, Lyric, Blaze, Brogan, Rogelio, Maxx, Maxton, and Arnav were all more popular names for American male babies than Woodrow. There are more babies named “Maxton,” “Blaze” and “Gaige” out there in America right now than are named “Woodrow.” I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. “Blaze” is an awesome name, and in most respects it’s probably better to be named “Blaze” than to be named for a guy that loved Birth of a Nation so much he made them show it at the White House. It is strange, though.
As far as Woodrow is concerned, though, it seems certain that a great many of those children born between 1912 and 1919 were named “Woodrow Wilson.” And one of these people named for the 28th president was none other than Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, born one hundred years ago today in 1912.