Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ulysses Grant: Evolution of a Name


On April 27, 1822, Hannah Grant, nee Simpson, the wife of Jesse Grant, gave birth to a baby boy. The boy remained nameless for almost a month.

Members of the Simpson family proposed a number of alternatives, including Albert (after Albert Gallatin) and Theodore. John Simpson, Hannah's father and Jesse's father-in-law, proposed "Hiram, because it is such a handsome name." Sarah Simpson, Hannah's mother and Jesse's mother-in law, offered Ulysses: she had just finished "reading Fenelon's Telemachus and thrilled to its dramatic description of Greek heroes." Eager to please his in-laws, Jesse named the boy Hiram Ulysses. Jesse called the boy "my Ulysses," and the boy was generally known by that name.

It was Jesse -- not Ulysses -- who determined to try to get his boy admitted to West Point. On February 19, 1839, Hiram wrote a letter to his Congressman, Thomas L. Hamer, asking him to nominate Ulysses. Hamer did so, and on May 15, 1839 Ulysses left home for the first time.

He did so, however, with a new name: Ulysses Hiram Grant:
To identify his trunk, he and his cousins hammered in his initials, but it took only a moment to see that "H.U.G." would not do. Ulysses was not going to be the butt of any more jokes if he could help it. From now on he would be Ulysses Hiram Grant.

Two weeks later Ulysses had yet another new name. When he arrived at West Point on May 29, 1839, he was informed that there was no appointment for "Ulysses Hiram Grant." The appointment was for one "Ulysses S. Grant." If Mr. Grant was not Ulysses S. Grant, he could go home.

The mixup apparently originated with Congressman Hamer:
Apparently Congressman Hamer, in his rush to make out the papers of nomination, had mistakenly affixed an S (Hannah's maiden name was Simpson) to serve as a middle initial after the name by which the boy went -- Ulysses.

Faced with the choice of accepting the new name or going home, "Grant, who had never had much use for Hiram anyway, agreed to yet another name change."

The new initials "U.S." Grant promptly produced the nickname "Sam:"
As cadets scanned the list of the incoming candidates, their eyes fell on "U.S. Grant." Well, who was that? United States Grant? Uncle Sam Grant? . . . Grant explained what had happened, but it was no use. He was now Ulysses S. Grant. Before long his friends started calling him Sam, just as Sherman went by Cump; another cadet, James Longstreet of South Carolina, was known as Pete.

All quotes are from Brooks D. Simpson's Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865.

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