Matt McGovern has taken a lot of heat for changing his name from Matthew Rowen to Matt McGovern.
The South Dakota Republican Party, and his PUC opponent, Kristi Fiegen, think it’s an issue worth using in a campaign. As a poll shows McGovern leading, they are using it more and more, although they had to modify the latest attack ad.
I first talked with him about this two years ago, as he explained his choice. His mother, Susan McGovern, is one of George’s daughters. For most of his life, he was known as Matt Rowen-McGovern, although he said people always called him Matt McGovern.
When he came to South Dakota, he gradually dropped the Rowen, until he legally became Matt McGovern. The story’s been told many times.
It seems a wise choice in South Dakota, where the name McGovern has even more impact than it does elsewhere.
Plus, he’s hardly the first politician who is running for office under a name that differs from what he was christened, including three presidents.
Try Bill Clinton. Gerald Ford. U.S. Grant.
Not to mention Spiro Agnew, Gary Hart, and a bunch of other people who placed a fresh name on the ballot, including Shimon Peres, David Ben-Gurion, Nelson Mandela and a lot of other famous, and infamous people.
Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III. His father was killed in a car crash before he was born, and he was renamed for his stepfather.
Ford was born Leslie King Jr., but his mom divorced his father and married a man named Gerald Ford. While the young King was soon called Gerald Ford Jr., he didn’t legally change the name until he was 22.
Grant is an especially interesting case. His real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. His initials were HUG, and he hated that. His mother’s maiden name was Simpson, and when he was accepted into West Point, a clerical error dubbed him Ulysses Simpson Grant, or U.S. Grant.
He loved it, and ran with it all the way to the White House. His friends, however, called him Sam, short for Uncle Sam.
Agnew’s real name was Spiro Theodore Anagnostopoulos. People called him Ted. He ran for office as Spiro Agnew, and was elected governor of Maryland, and vice president. It was also the name he used when he resigned in 1973.
Hart should be very familiar to Matt McGovern; he was Grandpa George’s campaign manager during the 1972 presidential race, and spoke at the funeral last week. He was born Gary Hartpence, but he shortened his name, and shaved a year off his age, as a young man.
That came back to bite Hart during his 1984 and 1987 bids for the presidency. But unlike Matt McGovern, he wasn’t open and upfront about his changes.
So I would suggest we should drop this name issue. A person’s name is a personal choice, according to the Associated Press Stylebook. What someone chooses to call themselves is what we report.
I learned that when Stephanie Herseth chose to be called Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Her choice. We should respect people’s opinion.
I agree, and it’s Matt McGovern in this corner from now on.