It's novelty, nuisance when president's name is your claim to fame

February 15, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

Good thing George Washington cannot tell a lie.

Otherwise it might be tough to swallow his tale about the police officer who pulled him over a few years back. Suspecting Mr. Washington, a Los Angeles real estate broker, of being less than honest about his name, the officer ordered him out.

After inspecting Mr. Washington's driver's license, the officer quipped to the passenger: "So who are you? Andrew Jackson?"

It was indeed.

Mr. Washington's cousin is Andrew Jackson of Los Angeles.

And the two were on their way to see their friend Woodrow Wilson in East Los Angeles.

Honest.

"I never tell a lie," Mr. Washington said.

Thousands of men such as Messrs. Washington, Jackson and Wilson enjoy the novelty -- or bear the burden -- of sharing the name of a U.S. president. So on Presidents Day, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should remember our fellow Americans who get all of the ribbing, some of the hassles but few of the perks that come with the nation's highest office.

"It was kind of a novelty at first," said Jimmy Carter of North Hollywood. "But then you started hearing the same things over and over -- especially about peanuts. Sometimes, they were cute, but most of the time it was just people being obnoxious -- 'Got any peanuts? Got a peanut ranch?' Or they might throw some kind of beer joke at me because of Billy."

Sometimes, though, the jokes degenerate from obnoxious to threatening.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy of Los Angeles was living in Indianapolis on -- where else? -- Pennsylvania Avenue. For days after the assassination in Dallas, Mr. Kennedy's phone rang and rang.

Mr. Kennedy, who is now retired, changed his number several times on the advice of the Secret Service. But even now, drunks occasionally call up at 2 a.m. demanding to speak to the dead president.

During the heady days of Camelot, children would call Mr. Kennedy's house asking not what they could do for their country, but whether Caroline or John John could come to the phone. So Mr. Kennedy would put his wife on the line who, raising her voice a few pitches, told the young callers what it was like to live in the White House and have such a powerful daddy.

"I was always going to write Kennedy and let him know that we were getting more calls for Caroline than for him," Mr. Kennedy said. "But I never did. He probably would have written back and that letter would be worth thousands now."

A missed opportunity -- and more than once Kennedy's name caused missed hotel reservations. More than once, Mr. dTC Kennedy's reservations were thrown out because some clerk dismissed Mr. Kennedy as a prankster.

Mr. Kennedy's bosses toyed with the clerks at a Chicago hotel during his company's annual meeting by putting him in the same room as the San Francisco branch manager, a fellow by the name of, well, um, Ronald Reagan.

Experts say being named for a president can add up to a lot of pressure. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill -- a size 14 in the case of Abraham Lincoln.

"The name often carries a lot of pressure for a child," said Catherine Cameron, a sociology professor at the University of LaVerne and the author of "The Name Givers: How They Influence Your Life." "If a parent idolizes a particular president there may be some strong expectations of that child."

That may be, but William McKinley's parents didn't necessarily view their son as cut from presidential timber. "As far as I know, my parents just liked the name," said the parks and recreation worker from Glendale, Calif. "I just hope I don't end up like he did."

President McKinley was mortally wounded by an anarchist Sept. 6, 1901, after delivering a speech at the Buffalo, N.Y., exposition.

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