Hillary: What's in a Name?

Preston Bynum still remembers Hillary Rodham. The former chief of staff for Arkansas Gov. Frank White, Bynum worked on White's campaign to oust a young Bill Clinton from the governor's mansion in 1980, an effort that succeeded in part because voters disapproved of Hillary's decision to keep her maiden name. "White was just very perceptive," Bynum told NEWSWEEK. "He would say, 'Can you believe they're married and she never took his name?' " Bynum said the flap underscored her exoticness in Arkansas. "She was still kind of a hippie," he recalled, adding that her style "just didn't sit well with people."

Soon enough, Hillary Rodham was Mrs. Bill Clinton. Governor White's widow, Gay, said she thinks Hillary's curtsy to Arkansas's old-fashioned mores helped Clinton defeat White in their 1982 rematch. "Right after my husband was elected, she pretty much became Hillary Clinton," White said. "It must have been received well." Webb Hubbell, Hillary Clinton's old friend from Little Rock's Rose Law Firm, said the furor "bothered her because she had her own identity. She had gone to law school, she had things going on that were her own."

The issue followed the Clintons to Washington. In a poll conducted just after Bill took office, 62 percent of respondents said the First Lady should be known as Hillary Clinton rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Later, a New York Times column asserted that "there have been … four wives of Bill Clinton": Hillary Rodham, Mrs. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and, "rather suddenly about the time her husband became President," the full HRC.

Neel Lattimore, Clinton's deputy press secretary at the time, said that Hillary's inner circle was baffled by the obsession. Staff referred to her interchangeably as Hillary Rodham Clinton or Mrs. Clinton. Emphasizing that use of Rodham was "not some mandate from on high," Lattimore denies that the First Lady changed her name for political reasons. But the press never let it go. In 1999, Maureen Dowd wrote a satirical column addressed to "Ms. Rodham Clinton Rodham." Is it any wonder that in her Senate races and now in her presidential bid, Ms. Rodham Clinton Rodham has decided to keep it simple? The campaign goes with just Hillary, spokesman Jay Carson said, "because it reflects the warmth and familiarity people feel toward her."