This week’s featured question came from David in Florida, a potential political candidate who has some doubts about his chances of winning an election because of his long last name.
“Hey great site, I am personally very involved with community stuff in my city and have also considered running for office but have a question. My last name is pretty long and is hard to pronounce for some people (I won’t mention what it is but it is on the long side, definitely not a Smith or Jones!)”
So what do you think, does a candidate have a hard time winning a political campaign if his/her name is too long? Or does it matter? Thanks in advance.
David, it’s not just a great question, but also one that I’m pretty well suited to answer. As an elected official with a long last name that is also difficult to pronounce (Van Treuren), I had the same questions and doubts that you had before I ran my first political campaign for elected office.
I’ll give you the quick, easy answer first: no, a lengthy or difficult-to-pronounce name does not make you less likely to win a political campaign.
For some strange reason, there is a widely held misconception in our country that you have to have a short, traditional-sounding name to be a viable candidate for political office. In reality, the number of letters in your last name has little to do how well you will do at the polls on election day.
While a short last name might fit better on yard signs and bumper stickers, they have few other advantages. If you work hard and run a smart, aggressive campaign, then people will remember your name when they see it on the ballot . . . regardless of how hard it is to pronounce.
Want to know a secret? I’m fairly certain that the majority of people who cast a vote for me in my last election didn’t know how to pronounce my last name. I rarely met anyone on the campaign trail who said it the right way, but I didn’t correct them unless they asked how to pronounce it.
And in spite of the fact that I had the longest and strangest last name out of all of four candidates in an at-large race, I was still the top vote-getter in the city.
My name had nothing to do with whether people voted for me or not. Instead, it was the many hours of knocking on doors, making phone calls and other hard work that made them remember who I was. When people see your name numerous times over the course of a campaign, and have many opportunities to associate it with a candidate who works hard, then they remember it.
In fact, if your long last name stands out and is more easily recognizable than the short monikers of your opponents, then it can even end up helping you at the polls. Remember: a common last name may be easily pronounced, but it is also easily forgotten.
How common your last name is has very little to do with your electability. Political candidate names don’t get much more unusual than Barack Obama, and he was elected president.
Throughout the country and on every level, there are public servants who have been elected to office in spite of long, hard-to-pronounce last names. Don’t let your name stop you from helping your community by running a race for office!