Can You Run For President Using A Nickname?

In the upcoming presidential election, Americans will get to choose between the two major candidates: Donald Trump of the Republican Party and Joe Biden of the Democratic Party. Or, as his name will more than likely appear on the ballot, Joseph R. Biden.

“Joe” is such a common nickname of “Joseph” that we often forget that celebrities such as Joe Jonas and Joe Frazier aren’t even known by their real names. Can Joe Biden or anyone else use a nickname when running for president? The answer, which might surprise some of you, is “Yes!” 

The name on the ballot

After all, Joe Biden already used his nickname when he was the vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. How did he do this? Well, the states will simply use whatever names are provided to them by the national political parties.

You see, on election day you aren’t actually voting for the president but for party electors in the Electoral College. So, since the person you are technically voting for isn’t on the ballot at all, the parties have a lot of leeway as to what name they can actually give to the states.   

Before you get your hopes up, the major political parties are very unlikely to use a ridiculous or absurd nickname on a national election ballot. In November, the Democratic Party is almost certainly going to list their candidate as “Joseph R. Biden,” and the Republicans will likewise list Michael “Mike” Pence by his full name on the ballot like they did in 2016. As for why Joe Biden is going by his full name this time around, you would need to ask the man himself! Maybe he thinks it sounds more presidential? 

Historically, candidates have actually used something besides their legal name when running for president. In the election of 1868, the man born as Hiram Ulysses Grant ran for president under the name he used for most of his life, “Ulysses S. Grant.”

Fast forward to the infamous 2000 election, where we actually had a double dosage of nicknames on the ballot: Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore was listed on the ballot as “Al Gore” and Republican vice-presidential candidate Richard Cheney was listed as “Dick Cheney.”  

Speaking of names, where did the two major political parties—Democrat and Republican—get their names? Read about that here.

In 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was listed on the ballot by his legal middle name, which he has used to refer to himself since he was in kindergarten. However, Romney wasn’t even the first to do this in a presidential election. In the election of 1884, the Democratic candidate for president, Stephen Grover Cleveland, appeared on the official ticket as simply “Grover Cleveland.”   

For the pranksters among us, nothing is stopping a voter from entering their own silly name if they decide to vote for a write-in candidate. In the 2016 presidential election alone, we saw votes cast for Abraham Lincoln, Daenerys Targaryen, the entire Chicago Cubs baseball team, various members of the Justice League, and a strip of bacon.

Where is nickname from? 

The word nickname goes back to the 1400s, stemming from the Old English word ekename, meaning “additional name.” The phrase a nickname actually resulted from a mishearing of the phrase an ekename. This mishearing was apparently so common that the N eventually shifted over and created the word nickname in an example of what is known as a metanalysis, a shift in the division of words.

Many nicknames are examples of hypocorism, commonly known as pet names, where a name is turned into a more affectionate version: Johnny for Jonathon, Debbie for Deborah, Joey for Joseph, etc. Sometimes, a nickname looks a lot different than the name it is replacing, such as Chuck for Charles, Peggy for Margaret, Dick for Richard, and both Hank and Harry for Henry. 

Regardless of whether your candidate is known as Joe Biden or “The Donald,” make sure you take advantage of your democratic rights this November and cast your vote! 

Time to get silly

Presidential elections are one thing, but when it comes to lower level elections, things can often get a lot sillier. While some states allow zero funny business when it comes to names, other states will simply allow whatever name that the candidate used when they filed with the FEC.

Due to this, you sometimes get some pretty silly nicknames appearing on ballots, such as in the 2019 Louisiana elections where you had candidates such as “Jeff Big Daddy” Naquin and Fernest “Pacman” Martin. 

Although he didn’t make the official ballot due to his age, 15-year-old Brady Olsen managed to officially file as an independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election under the name “Deez Nuts,” which likely would have appeared on the ballot in some states due to Deez Nuts’s impressive poll numbers at that point.

 

If there’s one sobriquet that stumps people, it’s how the Republican Party came to be called the GOP. Naturally, we have an explanation for that.

 

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