What Every Presidential Candidate’s Last Name Means

August 23, 2019 by Steven M. Peters

You might think that the 21 Democratic candidates for president in 2020 (actually 20 — Bernie Sanders is an Independent), plus a couple over on the other side, represent an almost bewilderingly large field confronting voters.

That’s just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg, however. According to a Ballotpedia rundown of registered candidates for next year’s election, as of August 19, some 823 people had filed to run next year with the Federal Election Commission, including 275 Democrats, 118 Republicans, 36 Libertarians, and 15 Green Party members.

That’s not to mention an assortment of Independents and nonpartisans, as well as representatives of the Constitution Party, the Human Rights Party, the Prohibition Party, and more. You might be surprised to learn about the political parties that won votes in the 2016 election.

Among those apparently poised to compete for the nation’s highest office, in addition to some more familiar names, are Chocolate Pancakes (Republican), Cocaine (nonpartisan), Elvis Master Butler (People Over Politics), Kanye Deez Nutz West (Green), Pew Die Pie (Communist), Refino Pig (Republican), Seven the Dog (nonpartisan), Sexy Vegan (Independent), and Vermin Supreme (Libertarian).

We can only speculate as to where some of these monikers came from. In the case of those aforementioned 21 main Democratic/Independent competitors, however, and of Donald Trump and his sole potential challenger in the Republican primary, Bill Weld, it is indeed possible to discover the origins of their names.

The results might tell us at least a little bit about each man and woman — even if the information isn’t as important as learning which candidates are spending the most and the least in their efforts to get elected.

Click here to learn what every presidential candidate’s last name means.

However diverse the roster of candidates might be, a majority of them have names that originate in England, Scotland, or Ireland. One has Semitic roots, a couple are Slavic, and only one is Asian. They derive from occupations, locales, physical characteristics, virtues, and relationships to ancestors. Some bespeak noble characteristics. Others are less complimentary. One of them, however, is going to be a name that figures large in our future as a nation.

To learn the origins of the candidates’ last names, 24/7 Tempo consulted the websites Ancestry.com, SurnameDB, House of Names, Geneanet, and Forebears, as well as individual family historical websites and the Oxford English Dictionary. In cases where the etymology of a name is disputed, various possibilities are given.

Source: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Michael Bennet (D)
> Occupation: Senator, Colorado
> Birthplace: New Delhi, India
> Age: 54

A variation on Bennett, which is a version of the medieval name Benedict — from the Latin “benedictus,” meaning “blessed.”

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Joe Biden (D)
> Occupation: Former vice president of the United States
> Birthplace: Scranton, Pennsylvania
> Age: 76

Though the name Biden is first recorded in Hampshire, in England, in the 13th century, the name derives originally from the Old French word “boton,” meaning “button.” The first man to bear the name was probably a button-maker.

Source: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Cory Booker (D)
> Occupation: Senator, New Jersey
> Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
> Age: 50

The consensus seems to be that the name Booker comes from the Old English “boker,” meaning a dealer in or maker of books, though alternative theories link it to the Anglo-Saxon “bocere,” meaning a writer, doctor, or interpreter, and one source equates it with an early word for “butcher.” The Oxford English Dictionary also mentions that in the Middle English period, the name might have been borrowed from “bouker,” meaning a bleacher of cloth.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Steve Bullock (D)
> Occupation: Governor, Montana
> Birthplace: Missoula, Montana
> Age: 53

From the Old English “bulluc,” a young bull, the name Bullock may have been an occupational reference to someone who kept bullocks or may have evolved as a nickname for a high-spirited young man.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg (D)
> Occupation: Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
> Birthplace: South Bend, Indiana
> Age: 37

The Buttigieg family comes from the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. Maltese is a Semitic language with many Arabic loan words, and Buttigieg comes from the Arabic “’abū d-dajāj” — literally “father of chickens,” meaning a chicken farmer or poulterer. (“D-dajāj” becomes “tiġieġ” in Maltese.)

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Julián Castro (D)
> Occupation: Former secretary of housing and urban development
> Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas
> Age: 44

An old and well-known name in Spain, and common today in Latin America — but also found in Portugal, Italy, and Sephardic Jewish communities — Castro is a place name deriving from the Latin “castrum,” meaning a fortress or castle.

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Bill de Blasio (D)
> Occupation: Mayor, New York City
> Birthplace: New York City (Manhattan)
> Age: 58

The name of New York’s controversial mayor is first recorded in the city of Benevento, east of Naples, in the 14th century. In Italian, the “di” (sometimes converted to “de”) generally indicates emigration from one place to another. The original name was simply Blasio or Blais, but there are said to be over a hundred variations — including Blas, Blaze, Blaise, and Balazs. It may come originally from the Latin “blaesus,” which means “stammering,” or from the Ancient Greek “vlaisós,” meaning bent, distorted, or splay-footed.

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

John Delaney (D)
> Occupation: Former representative, Maryland
> Birthplace: Wood-Ridge, New Jersey
> Age: 56

Delaney is an English and Irish name of Norman French origin. It seems to be related to place names in northern France that were based on the Old French “aunaie,” meaning “alder grove,” with the preposition “de” added. The Irish version of the name is sometimes said to be related to the Gaelic name Dubhshláine, from “dubh” (“black”) and “slán” (“challenge”) or “Sláinge,” the river today known as the Slaney.

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Tulsi Gabbard (D)
> Occupation: Representative, Hawaii
> Birthplace: Leloaloa, American Samoa
> Age: 38

Gabbard could be an old Anglo-Saxon variant on the name Gilbert, which draws on the Germanic terms “gisil” or “gisl” (which can mean either “hostage” or “noble youth”) and “behrt” (“bright” or “famous”). It is more likely, however, to be an Americanized version of the German name Gebhardt — in turn from the German words “geben,” “to give,” and “hart,” “hard” or “tough.”

Source: Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
> Occupation: Senator, New York
> Birthplace: Albany, New York
> Age: 52

A common medieval Scottish surname of Old English origins, Gillibrand — also spelled Gellibrand and Jellybrand — was originally Gislbrand. The “gisl” is apparently the same root that forms part of “Gilbert” (see above), and “brand” means “burning” — though one source translates Gislbrand to “burning bright.”

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Kamala Harris (D)
> Occupation: Senator, California
> Birthplace: Oakland, California
> Age: 54

An old name in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, Harris is commonly thought to be a form of “Harry” — though it is also said to be based on the term for the son of the ruler of the land on which he lived, Le Herisse. (“Herisson” is the word for hedgehog in French, and the Harris coat of arms depicts those animals, in punning reference to the name.)

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Amy Klobuchar (D)
> Occupation: Senator, Minnesota
> Birthplace: Plymouth, Minnesota
> Age: 59

“Klobuk” is the Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian word for “hat.” (Klobuchar’s father is of Slovenian descent.) A Klobuchar would have been a hatter, or hatmaker.

Source: Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Wayne Messam (D)
> Occupation: Mayor, Miramar, Florida
> Birthplace: Pahokee, Florida
> Age: 45

Messam might be a Welsh name derived from the village of Machen. Another etymology, though, relates it to the English village of Measham and suggests that it comes from an Old English word “meos,” meaning “swamp,” and “ham,” the word for a village or hamlet.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke (D)
> Occupation: Former representative, Texas
> Birthplace: El Paso, Texas
> Age: 46

Said to be one of the world’s oldest surnames, dating from the 10th century, O’Rourke is a reference to a Norse prince named Ruarc — whose name in turn came from the Old Norse “Hrothekr” (or Roderick), meaning “famous king.” The Gaelic “Ó” means “descendent of.”

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Tim Ryan (D)
> Occupation: Representative, Ohio
> Birthplace: Niles, Ohio
> Age: 46

Although it’s one of the ten most numerous surnames in Ireland, Ryan has mysterious origins. It might come from the name Ó Ruaidhín, “descendant of the little red one.” On the other hand, it could be a shortening of Ó Maoilriain, Maoilrian’s descendent. The latter is a man’s name, the first part of which might come from the Irish “mal,” meaning “chief,” or from “maol,” meaning bald or tonsured (though in this sense probably meaning a devotee who might have shaved his head out of respect). As for the “rian,” it might be an Old Irish word for “water” — but on the other hand, one source says that it’s “so ancient that its meaning is obscure.”

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Bernie Sanders (I)
> Occupation: Senator, Vermont
> Birthplace: New York City (Brooklyn)
> Age: 77

Sanders family historians believe that the name was originally Scottish. There are at least three explanations for the derivation of the name. It is commonly thought to be a variant of Alexander or the Greek Alexandros, which is made up of the words “alexo” (“I defend”) and “aner” (‘man”). It might also relate to the English village of Sanderstead, recorded as “Sonderstede” (“house of sandy land”) in 871. One other possibility is that it comes from the German word “sand,” which means exactly what it does in English, and that a sander was someone who supplied sand for agricultural or building purposes.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Joe Sestak (D)
> Occupation: Former representative, Pennsylvania
> Birthplace: Secane, Pennsylvania
> Age: 67

In the Czech language, a šesták — literally a “sixer” — was a coin worth six of another coin, the kreuzer. Ancestry.com speculates that the name “would have been acquired by someone who had to pay rent of this amount or for some other anecdotal reason.”

Source: Steve Pope / Getty Images

Tom Steyer (D)
> Occupation: hedge fund manager
> Birthplace: New York City (Manhattan)
> Age: 62

Not much is known about the origins of this name, but it is likely related to the south-central Austrian region of Steiermark, or Styria.

Source: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

Donald Trump (R)
> Occupation: President of the United States
> Birthplace: New York City (Queens)
> Age: 73

Trump is either an early medieval English name, from the Middle English “trumpe,” or “trumpet,” or a German name, from the Middle High German word for “drum,” which is also “trumpe.” Someone with that name would have been a trumpeter or a drummer, respectively. Of course, the president’s original family name wasn’t Trump at all, but Drumpf — which is apparently a Swiss-German variant of the German word “Trumpf,” meaning a trump card.

Source: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren (D)
> Occupation: Senator, Massachusetts
> Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
> Age: 70

The name Warren is linked both to the village of La Varenne in France’s Seine-Maritime département and to the Anglo-Norman “warrene” or Middle English “wareine,” meaning a warren or a place for breeding game. The name originally applied either to someone who lived near a game park or to a gamekeeper.

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

Marianne Williamson (D)
> Occupation: Author
> Birthplace: Houston, Texas
> Age: 67

Williamson, which means simply “son of William,” was first used by the ancient Scottish tribe called the Strathclyde Britons, one of the four main groups after the departure of the Romans from Britain. William comes from an Old French name made up of the Germanic words “wil,” meaning “desire,” and “helm” meaning “helmet” or “protection.”

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Bill Weld (R)
> Occupation: Former governor, Massachusetts
> Birthplace: Smithtown, New York
> Age: 74

There are several possible explanations of this name’s etymology. One links it to the Middle English word “wold,” meaning “forest.” Another holds that it’s a locational reference to someone living near a village called Wild, Wylde, or Wilde, or near a weald — a large tract of uncultivated land. Still another relates it to the easily recognizable Old English term “wilde,” meaning undisciplined or out of control — in which case, it may have started as a nickname for a boisterous person.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Andrew Yang (D)
> Occupation: Entrepreneur
> Birthplace: Schenectady, New York
> Age: 44

According to various sources, Yang — which is the seventh most common surname in the world — means “aspen tree,” “ocean,” or “light,” “sun,” or “male” (as in yin and yang). Though it is of Chinese origin, it is a particularly popular name in Korea today.