The news: Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, 43 children born at one Kenyan hospital were named either “Barack Obama” or “Michelle Obama.”
Behind the news: At least one baby in the Chicago area has been named after the historymaking president, but officials aren’t sure how many others have.
Park Forest resident Todd Gillespie and wife, Tonnika, welcomed their newborn Malcolm Barack Gillespie on Sept. 5. Todd Gillespie’s father, William Wallace Gillespie, was named after former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice-president Henry Wallace. When Malcolm was born, shortly before the election, Gillespie was inspired that the nation might see its first black president.
There’s no way to tell how many other Baracks are around–”neither the Cook County Vital Records Department nor the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Division of Vital Records has a searchable electronic database of birth records.
Since the election in November, employees at the Cook County Vital Records department have been unofficially looking for birth certificates coming from hospitals that list Barack as a first or middle name. They haven’t seen any, said Courtney Greve, spokesperson for Cook County Clerk David Orr, whose office oversees the department.
The Social Security Administration tracks names based on applications for Social Security cards and publishes a list of the top 1,000 baby names each year. Barack didn’t make the cut in 2007, the most recent year for which the data are available. But that year, it did become Name of the Year by Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard.”
Wattenberg said Barack’s name is significant because it represents a cultural naming shift.
“The symbolism of having a president with a very unusual non-Western name speaks profoundly to people with unusual sounding names in this country,” Wattenberg said.
“Historically, Americans have named their children after political and war heroes. But since [the] Watergate [scandal], that has not been the trend anymore.”