Naming rites: Pols as pals
CHARLIE BAKER AND MARTY WALSH don’t have a lot in common. One is a Harvard-educated Republican with blue-blooded ancestry here dating back to colonial days. The other is a Democratic son of Irish immigrants with a blue-collar background as a union leader. But they share this: Both are known almost universally not by their given first name, but by its diminutive form.
In Boston, “Marty” is all you need to say to make clear you’re speaking of the city’s 54th mayor, Martin J. Walsh. The same goes for “Charlie,” which is clear shorthand for the state’s new governor. When it comes to referencing the new governor and the still-recently-minted mayor of the state’s capital city, welcome to the era of the regular guy.
The names certainly lend a “common appeal” to the leaders, says Grant W. Smith, a professor of English at Eastern Washington University who has extensively studied the names of political leaders and how they can affect public perceptions — and their electoral fortunes.
In a nod to his mother, despite his down-to-earth persona and background, Walsh prefers that newspapers and official documents use his proper name, including his middle initial, which stands for Joseph, in honor of his maternal grandfather.
Baker, too, had always been cited in newspaper stories by his proper, full name, Charles D. Baker Jr. But at the start of last year’s run for governor, says spokesman Tim Buckley, newspaper reporters asked what Baker preferred to called. The word from the campaign was “Charlie,” setting in motion a moniker migration that saw newspaper references change from “Charles D. Baker Jr.” during his 2010 campaign for governor to “Charlie Baker” during last year’s run.
Not every outlet has gone along. The Telegram & Gazette has stuck with Charles D. Baker Jr., though the Worcester daily is also one of a vanishing number of papers that still use honorifics — so in the governor’s case, “Mr. Baker” — rather than just last names after the initial reference in a story.
But both Boston dailies have honored the Charlie call. “If public officials have a preference on what name they wish to be called, we generally defer,” Globe editor Brian McGrory said in an email. McGrory points to the long history of that practice, citing the examples of Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney (who, understandably, eschews use of his first name, Willard, in favor of his middle name).
Veteran Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, however, has been a holdout. He suggests there is some principle here, not wanting to abet what some saw as a conscious Baker makeover meant to soften him following his 2010 run, in which he came off as angry and overbearing.
“Well, during the campaign, I generally did Charles D. Baker Jr. because I saw the incessant ‘Charlie’-ing as part of their effort at image-crafting,” Lehigh said by email. He continued to use the formal form of address during the December transition.
Smith looks at both the meaning and “musicality” of names in assessing their appeal. He says Charlie is musically more pleasing than Charles. “It flows free,” says Smith. “If you analyze the airflow at the end of the word Charles, it has a buzz sound, creating turbulence in the air.”
Baker certainly had a less turbulent run for governor last year as Charlie than when Charles was in play four years earlier. (Smith says Marty and Martin both have high appeal, and points to the large number of US presidents — 16 out of 43 — with last names ending in “n”.)
“Charlie” makes Baker seem “less upper class, less Ivy League, and less Republican,” says former Boston city councilor Lawrence DiCara (known universally as Larry). “I think it is all part of the softening of the image, which may have made 40,000 votes of difference,” says DiCara, referring to the margin of Baker’s win over Martha Coakley.
For his part, the new governor says simply, “Everybody who knows me calls me Charlie.” (That includes his mother.) He says he was known for a brief time in high school as “Bakes,” but that didn’t stick.
If there is some political benefit to a more everyman moniker, especially for a candidate not eager to trumpet his well-heeled pedigree, that may go double for Baker. His Wikipedia page lists Baker’s great-grandfather as Charles D. Baker and his grandfather as Charles D. Baker Jr. But the family appears to have reset the naming clock with his father, who is known simply as Charles D. Baker, with the governor then taking the Jr. suffix.All of which would actually seem to make the state’s chief executive, formally speaking, of course, Charles D. Baker IV. “I am the fourth, technically,” he says. “But no one pays attention.”
Not that he has exactly advertised that fact.