About 18 months ago, I started to get a gut feeling that Hillary Clinton might just be our next president. And it’s all because of Uber drivers.
My name is Hillary, spelled in the same two-L style as HRC, which has meant that pretty much every time I get into an Uber, the driver says, “I thought it might be Hillary Clinton.” What, you don’t think the Democratic presidential nominee ever orders an UberX to pick her up on Bowery? Have some imagination.
My whole life has been punctuated, in fits and starts, by sharing a name with our country’s most powerful woman. And through sharing her name, I’ve gotten an insider’s view of how much people are thinking about Hillary Clinton over the past 20-plus years. It’s like being that octopus that predicts the outcome of the Super Bowl. Except Vegas isn’t placing bets on you.
I was born in the late ’80s, and grew up while the Clintons lived in the White House, so every first day of school, every new after-school activity, every new interaction with an old person involved the inevitable “Hillary — just like Hillary Clinton!”
“Just like” was a bit of a stretch. I was not named after Hillary Clinton, first because she was the First Lady of Arkansas at the time I was born, and most of America didn’t know who she was, and second, because I was actually named after a cookbook that my parents had been making their way through when I was born in the summer of 1989. Great Grilling: Easy & Elegant Entertaining All Year Round by Hillary Davis — perfect for finding a recipe for steak in a red-wine marinade and a name for your firstborn child.
There have been other Hillarys (actually Hilarys, mostly) in my life. There was Hilary from Fresh Prince, there was Hilary Duff, and there is Hilary, my close friend who grew up in the apartment below me. There have been colleague Hillarys and friends-of-friends Hillarys and friend’s-mom-who-always-wants-to-talk-about-the-fact-that-we’re-both-named-Hillary Hillarys. When I asked some of these people what the past few months have been like, I got mixed reactions.
Everyone agreed that Hillary Clinton was a presence in their life right now. One Hillary mentioned that constantly hearing her name made her feel a little paranoid. Personally, I’ve heard quite a few “I’m so into Hillary”s or “I’m not sure about Hillary”s, followed by “Oh, I’m not talking about you!” I wasn’t worried about it, but still: Sentiment appreciated.
As Hillary Clinton’s tide as media hot topic has risen and fallen, so, too, has the likelihood that the science teacher or the airport-desk attendant or the uncle who doesn’t know anyone at the rehearsal dinner will ask about being named Hillary. It was constant during the Clinton White House era, then steadily declined through the 2000s, while Hillary Clinton was a senator of New York. Which is consistent with something Hillary has pointed out on this campaign — that when she “ha[s] the job,” she, for the most part, has experienced high approval ratings and people seem to get worked up about her less.
The comments bubbled up again when Hillary ran for president in 2008 (three years before Uber launched in New York City, if you can believe that, so there weren’t any drivers asking about my name then), but not nearly at the levels I’ve experienced in 2016. Shout out to the Bareburger employee who labeled my turkey burger container “Hillary Clinton” on the recent office order a few weeks ago. It made for a good Instagram.
For most of my life, I’ve shrugged these “Just like Hillary Clintons!” off. In more recent years, I found myself saying, as politely as possible, something like, “Well, Hillary Clinton has been a thing my whole life, so … I’m used to it?” And then I’d add that I was named after a cookbook. But at some point during this election cycle, my reaction changed. Rather than shrug it off, I started telling people that being named Hillary was awesome.
It wasn’t that I suddenly, randomly decided I loved my name, and it wasn’t that I decided Hillary was flawless. It was that, over the past few months, the thought that our next president might share my moderately common female name finally felt like a big deal. With a history of five Jameses, four Williams, three Georges, and two Andrews (no Donalds yet), having consecutive presidents named Barack and Hillary would be no small thing.
And it looks like I might not be alone. A few years ago, the Cut published a piece examining how Hillary had, since 1992, become “the most poisoned baby name in U.S. history.” It tumbled down the baby-name-popularity charts as people starting naming their kids Mason and Kumquat, and not after the former First Lady. But as of June, the name Hillary was apparently creeping back with some real fervor, up 142 percent from the same time last year. Future baby Hillarys, welcome to the club.