Thursday, June 4, 2009

Supreme Names

With all the ridiculous flap over the pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's name, I thought it might be interesting to look back over the great names of Supreme Court Justices past. If I were appointing a bench based solely on names, rather than politics, it would include these nine:

9. Horace Harmon Lurton
Some names flow lyrically off the tongue. Others lurch from consonant to consonant. The finest belong to the latter category and include sounds that remind you of words like halt and lurch.

8. Roger Brooke Taney
All together now: TAW-nee

7. David Davis
I heart alliteration.

6. Morrison Remick Waite
No particular reason here — I just liked this name. It sounds like a type of gun, yet is still pompous enough to suit a Gilded Age judge.

5. Thurgood Marshall
I'm actually slightly surprised that Thurgood did not break the top 1,000 boys' names in the late 1960s. According to the SSA, these names beat out Thurgood among American boys born in 1969: Elizabeth (#974), Antonia (#971), Bertram (#967), Thor (#956), Patricia (#953), Amy (#932), Maria (#929), Melissa (#918), Merlin (#896), Karen (#891), and Thurman (#709). When a masculine name is less popular than Elizabeth, it's pretty rare.

4. Bushrod Washington
Bushrod and Thurgood would make good twin names. My younger brother, Wheeler, often threatens to name all his future children after Norse gods, but I think he might be willing to consider this pair of strong, Germanic names.

3. Felix Frankfurter
Alliteration strikes again.

2. Salmon P. Chase
Salmon is a legit Bible name, I admit. This makes the list because I first learned about Salmon P. Chase from Ken Burns' The Civil War when I was in elementary school. The first time I heard his name, I formed a mental image of sprightly fish enjoying a game of tag. I have never been able to overcome the association.

Chief Justice: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
No contest.

For what it's worth, I like Sotomayor's name (not that anyone should care a fig for my approval or disapproval). It's alliterative and, despite what certain jackasses have said in the media, I find that it flows easily and lyrically. "Sonia" is a great name — familiar, but not too common. With the current trend of Sophie/Sophia/Sofia showing no signs of abating, I would be unsurprised to see an uptick in the popularity of "Sonia" over the next few years. Sonia Sotomayor. It's a strong, distinctive, iconic name.


Robert J. said...

And the number one fact that most nerdy little kids know about Samuel P. Chase is that he appeared on the $10,000 bill -- only Woodrow Wilson topped him.

The names of ancient Greek magistrates can be read on the coins they authorized to this day, whereas any laws they passed or the rulings they handed down were forgotten more than 2000 years ago.

Robert J. said...

Non sequitur: The video clip embedded in this news story has some nice views of the Truro cemetery and its early gravestones:

Mark DeAngelis said...

Although he never made it to the Supreme Court, influential Appeals Court Justice Learned Hand is another great name. And how prescient were the parents of Justice John Marshall Harlan when they named their son after his grandfather, the first chief justice?