Between Ronald Reagan’s election and his inauguration in 1980, Roger Rosenblatt, essayist for TIME and other magazines wrote a humor piece (most of his were) asking what we should call Reagan when he became President. One sentence is eerily prescient. What did Rosenblatt know that the rest of us didn’t?
Rosenblatt, Roger. “Is Reagan Dutch Or O & W?.” Time 116.26 (1980): 68.
[. . . .] On the whole, however, people will fight through a forbidding given name, especially when they want to make someone more vivid in their minds. Where would baseball be without Gosse, hockey without Boom, football without Mean Joe? Common criminals would sound like common criminals were there no Machine Gun, Killer or Mad Dog among them, Not that all gangster names are so picturesque. Nathan Kaplan’s moniker was “Kid Dropper” for reasons too awful to contemplate. And Al Capone was known as the Millionaire Gorilla, though it is hard to picture some floozie chucking him under the chin and cooing. “Come on, you big, bad Millionaire Gorilla.”
Unfortunately, none of this offers much of a guide toward what to call soon-to-be President Reagan. Neither does America’s own history, which is packed with presidential sobriquets equally various and baffling. George Washington was known not only as the Father of His Country, but also as the Stepfather of His Country and the Father of Pittsburgh. At least four U.S. Presidents were known as “His Accidency” (Tyler, Fillmore, Arthur and Andrew Johnson). That name, while suggestive, is still a cut above “His Fraudulency” (Rutherford B. Hayes). Martin Van Buren was alternately called “Whiskey Van,” because he could hold his liquor, and “The American Talleyrand” (though Talleyrand was never known as the French Van Buren). We will not discuss Wobbly Wille Mckinely or Old Rough and Ready.
A good many former Presidents were known as “The” something–“The Napoleon of the Stump” (Polk); “The Sage of Wheatland” Buchanan); “The Square of Rancho del Cielo,” or “The Gipper,” in reference to his second most memorable movie role, or in reference to the first, “The Rest of Me.” New York Builder Donald Trump is called “The Donald.” It is too early to tell.