GEORGE Howard Gillelan of Annapolis writes: "Harry S...


October 26, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN, JR.

GEORGE Howard Gillelan of Annapolis writes: "Harry S. Truman has been in the news recently. What does the middle initial stand for?

"I know and you probably know. I wish you'd inform your readers about this trivium. Speaking of which, I don't think you've ever addressed the provenance of the name of Florida's Senator Connie Mack."

I'm a sucker for writers who use six-bit words like "trivium" and "provenance," so here goes:

1. The "S." in Truman's name literally stood for nothing. As David McCullough notes in his new biography "Truman," this was "a practice not unknown among the Scotch-Irish, even for first names."

The reason Harry's parents went with just an "S." was that they could not decide whether to honor his maternal grandfather -- Solomon Young -- or his paternal grandfather -- Anderson Shippe Truman. Their solution honored both.

This led to some confusion. When Chief Justice Stone swore in Truman as president in 1945, he began, "I, Harry Shippe Truman. . ." And Truman replied, "I, Harry S. Truman. . ."

In 1956, a fan of Truman's, a Polish-born electrician by the name of Andreas Malz, had his own name changed to "Harry Solomon Truman." Truman saw a news story about this, prompting him to reminisce to a friend that his opponents had once tried to stir up anti-Semitic voters against him by listing him as Harry Solomon Truman in campaign literature.

Truman once told his crony Harry Vaughan [in a letter included in "Off the Record/The private papers of Harry S. Truman," edited by Robert Ferrell]: "If I had the family name, I would be proud of it, but I haven't."

He wasn't always so proud. When he was 86, his daughter Margaret recalled in her biography "Harry S. Truman," HST told her, "To be honest, I didn't like either of the old men very much at the time. But when I looked back as an adult, my respect and admiration for them grew with every passing year."

By the way, the period after the S has often been in dispute. Purists say since S stood for nothing, it was not an initial and needed no period. But Truman usually used a period when he signed his name.

2. Connie Mack III is not the Florida senator's real name. It's Cornelius McGillicuddy III. He is named after his father, Cornelius McGillicuddy Jr., a Florida businessman, who also chose to be known as Connie Mack, and was named after his father, Cornelius McGillicuddy, the owner-manager of the old Philadelphia Athletics baseball team.

The first McGillicuddy had his name shortened by sports writers of the day, either because they could not spell "Cornelius" and/or "McGillicuddy" or because Connie Mack fit in a one-column headline and Cornelius McGillicuddy didn't.

Senator Mack, though never changing his name legally, has been "Connie Mack III" since school days. His name appears that way on the ballot.

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