What’s in a name? Plenty if you’re a historical figure

By Linda Emley

Every February we get a three-day weekend and lots of stores have a big promotion known as the “President’s Day Sale”, but it’s not really President’s Day because it’s actually a federal holiday known as “Washington’s Birthday”.
Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday of February. If you look up the list of federal holidays it says, “This holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday”.
It’s not just a custom but law, according to section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for federal employees.
“Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law,” the government notes.
In 1879, an act of Congress created a federal holiday honoring our first President, George Washington. It was originally held on his actual birthday.
In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was created so we could have our three-day weekends. It was designated that George’s holiday would always be between Feb. 15 and 21, which means that we will never officially celebrate Washington’s birthday on his actual birthday, Feb. 22. But if Uncle Sam says it’s Washington’s Federal Holiday, that’s good enough for me.
Washington has always held a special spot in the hearts of Americans. Just the mention of his name makes us want to stand up and start reciting the pledge of allegiance to our flag because we all know he is the “father of our country.”
I’ve always thought it was strange that we refer to him as the father of our country  when he had no biological child of his own. George Washington became the step-father of two children when he married Martha Daindridge Custis in 1759. Her first husband, Daniel Custis, died in 1757 and left Martha a single mother with two children, Patsy and Jack. Two other children, Daniel Jr. and Francis had died previously.
Both of Martha’s surviving children died and left George and Martha Washington to raise two of their grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Curtis and George Washington Parke Custis at Mount Vernon. Two other granddaughters lived with their mother, Eleanor Custis, when she married Dr. David Stuart in 1783.
I thought it was nice that George Washington’s stepson named his son George Washington Parke Custis. George Washington may not have any biological descendents, but many Americans have been named after him. Every good American family has someone named after George Washington.
George Washington Emley once lived in Richmond, Mo. He was born in Virginia in 1858 and lived in Kansas before moving to Richmond. He worked for the AT and SF Railroad and later opened up a grocery store in Richmond near the depot.
While running his grocery store, he taught arithmetic to the local coal miners. In 1905, he moved to Glacier, Wash., where he died on Dec. 8 in 1942. I took my Emley boys to Washington state and we visited the grave of their great-great grandfather George Washington Emley.
It was a day that none of us will ever forget because we picked up a dear elderly local lady named Grace Emley Nicolay and she went with us to visit the grave of her father, George Washington Emley. Our George Washington Emley started life in President Washington’s home state of Virginia and spent his final days in a state that was named after him.
Some other George Washingtons of Ray County were George Washington Happy, George Washington Clemens, George Washington Cravens, George Washington Eddings, George Washington Russell, George Washington Schooler, George Washington Settle, George Washington Thompson, George Washington Teegarden and George Washington Dunn.
My dad is another good example of America’s love of naming their children after famous people. His name is James Benjamin Martin. He is named after his two grandfathers, Benjamin Franklin Morgan and Henry Benjamin Martin, so there was little choice but to make Benjamin part of his name. Ben Franklin has his share of Ray County namesakes, some of which were Benjamin Franklin Coleman, Benjamin Franklin Young and my Benjamin Franklin Morgan.
One of my favorite presidents is well represented in our county. We have Thomas Jefferson Brown, Thomas Jefferson Buchanan, Thomas Jefferson Gorham and Thomas Jefferson Watkins.  We can also add Anderson Jackson Crowley, Anderson Jackson Kincaid and Anderson Jackson Wilson to our presidents’ name list.
And we can’t forget all the local men that were named after generals of the Civil War, like Sterling Price Ferguson, Sterling Price Sisk, Sterling Price Harris and Ulysses Grant Bales. I wonder why we don’t see many people named after Abraham Lincoln because I did not find anyone in Ray County named after him.
We can add a little more spice to our name list with Napoleon Bonaparte Petty and Napoleon Bonaparte Ogg.
You can also find lots of men named after Biblical figures like Solomon and David, but what about the women of our county? You just don’t find many women named after famous women because there are not a lot of famous women in American history. I didn’t find any women named Cleopatra or Pocahontas, but I did find one lady named Queen Alnutt and the womens’ names America, America Kennedy, American Simpson and American Wild.
I think you get the idea that many of our ancestors were named after presidents and famous men. We just don’t do this any more. When was the last you met someone named Ronald Reagan Smith or Jimmy Carter Jones?
I have one last story to tell about naming your children after a president. I have a son named Landon David Cleveland Branstetter. The Landon is after Alf Landon, the politician from Kansas that was related to my family a few generations ago. The David is after King David in the Bible and my great-great grandfather David Kell.
But the best story is how the Cleveland name came down the family tree. His is the forth generation to be named Cleveland Branstetter. No one seemed to know why the Cleveland name was chosen. After a little research, I found that the Branstetters were strong Democrats in the early days of Ray County politics. When Grove Cleveland won the nomination for president of the United States, the Democrats were very happy and had a bit of a celebration.
Nine months later, Oscar Branstetter had a son and named him Cleveland Oscar Branstetter. And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Have any famous names in your family that you’d like to tell Linda about? You can contact her at or see her during business hours at Ray County Museum.

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