The name on the ballot

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.

4 thoughts on “The name on the ballot

  1. The new GOP ad against Rowen is good. I’d say it is one of the better GOP ads of the year and probably the best thing Post has done as GOP ED (which isn’t saying something).

    Now on to something else. Varilek, the dems and nesselhuf have all been involved in some seriously negative campaign tactics and the media has looked away. Same with Gordon Howie and the TP. The GOP has been a bunch of screwups under Rave’s leadership.

    The media should do a better job holding all political parties accountable or this crap will ruin SD politics.

  2. Big Green:
    Thanks for the comments.
    I do find it genuinely ironic you refer to MM as “Rowen” and then denounce negative campaigning. I do feel the SD media has done a solid job, with the MDR on the front line, of checking on the candidates and their charges. Our multi-part series on the Noem-Varilek race did just that this fall.

  3. Of all the pressing issues today and the operatives in the SDGOP go after someone for using their grandpa’s name?

    My grandson looks like his Grandpa Nelson, and clearly has a double dose of P & vinegar like his Grandpa Nelson, even though he has my beloved son-in-law’s beautiful last name. My grandson could call himself Scooby Doo for the rest of his life and I would be no less proud of him. I would also be the first to defend his freedom to do so.

    This is what happens when those running the SDGOP are more concerned with trivial petty issues than supporting Republican principles.

    McGovern was Matt’s birthright by virtue of being the old bomber’s grandson. He has also embraced his other birthright of being a liberal. The latter is the only legitimate issue that should be the focus of the race.

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