What Does ‘Mitt’ Mean?

Would you vote for a ‘Willard’ over a ‘Barry’?

Would Willard Romney stand a chance against Barack Obama? If Romney hadn’t bumped his middle name, ‘Mitt’, up to first chair, would he be making Barack Obama sweat? The GOP candidate has a name fit for either a CEO or a professional salesman, according to research published last year by professional networking site LinkedIn.

The company analyzed its more than 100 million users to determine name patterns for men and women across occupations. They found that more male CEOs went by short first names like ‘Jack’, ‘Bill’, or ‘Fred’. Sales professionals had names like ‘Chip’, ‘Todd’, or ‘Trey’. Athletes also tend to have short names, according to the analysis. Willard Romney’s middle name happens to have been inherited from his father’s cousin, Milton ‘Mitt’ Romney, who played football for the Chicago Bears in the 1920s.

Mitt seemed destined for this moment in history. Though his gubernatorial father, his wealth, and his political will power didn’t hurt, it brings up the interesting psychological question of whether names have any influence on our lives. Our names send out signals to others which also feeds back information to us about our social standing. A name like ‘Mitt’ sounds at once playful and congenial but also hoity-toity.

According to Dr. Frank Nuessel of the University of Louisville and head of NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics, who was quoted by The Christian Science Monitor on the LinkedIn findings:

Typically hypocorisms, the shorter form of a given name, are used in intimate situations as a nickname or a term of endearment,” study researcher Frank Nuessel, a professor of classical and modern languages at the University of Louisville, said in a statement. “It’s possible that sales professionals in the U.S. and male CEOs around the world use these shortened versions of their name as a way to be more approachable and accessible to potential clients.”

Through email, Dr. Nuessel adds that while Romney’s name is not technically a hypocorism, “nevertheless, it would fit into the model of such a name employed by business people who are seeking to establish a friendly and accessible mode of contact through such a name.” Dr. Nuessel says that people drop their first names for various reasons, but adds, “’Willard’ could be off-putting. The use of ‘Mitt’ is a way for Romney to present his public persona as ‘one of the guys’.”

Mitt was once a CEO and some would argue that he’s now also the highest-profile sales professional in the country. (We assume that the incumbent Barack Obama doesn’t have to push his product as hard.) Mitt successfully ran for governor as a prominent CEO and is still running on that portion of his resume. And though his firm, Bain Capital, has been accused of various improprieties, the GOP candidate has tried mightily to sell voters on his ability to create jobs. As a former CEO, he claims to know how business works and what it will take to get business to hire workers.

Both of Romney’s names are throwbacks, and it’s not as if ‘Mitt’ wins him any votes in rural Ohio or in many other places. He’s also not the type of candidate ‘regular guys’ could have a beer with, if only because Mitt doesn’t drink alcohol. But he does have a name that is endearing on one level and perhaps off-putting at another. As with his entire political career, Mitt currently battles the perceptions about what he represents. Perhaps this is why he is such a polarizing candidate and also why his name is the focal point of much liberal ridicule. His name is a handicap, but it may also be part of the reason he’s even in the conversation. Romney isn’t at this lofty political level just because of his name. Names aren’t destiny, but perhaps perception is closer to being destiny. It is reasonable to believe that names do contribute to how we are perceived by the world; they indicate our family background and perhaps our socioeconomic status which shapes us. They are a vessel, a word—‘Mitt’ or ‘Chuck’—which is always attached to other verbal information people constantly feed back to us.


Read more in Politics.

Image credit: Alan O’Rourke/Flickr


  1. And would a Barry Soetoro ever have won election in the first place?


  1. […] covered something similar with regards to Willard […]

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