Dutch, Weezy and Surfer

When Rep. Charles Albert Ruppersberger III (D-Md.) first ran for Congress in 2002, he decided that his 13-letter last name was too long to put on a bumper sticker.

Besides, he says, he needed something catchier, something that would stick in people’s heads. So he opted for his lifelong nickname: Dutch. But there was one hitch: It wasn’t his real name, so he couldn’t put “Dutch” on the ballot.

“When you market yourself, you have to make sure that you have the same name on the ballot, so I needed ‘Dutch’ on the ballot,” he said in an interview. “So what I did is I legally — I’m a lawyer — I legally added Dutch to my name. So I would go by C — period — A — period — Dutch, and all of the bumper stickers would say, ‘Go Dutch.’ So legally I added Dutch to my name.”

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Nicknames are as old as Congress itself. And while some lawmakers come to Capitol Hill with a secondary handle intact, other members get one bestowed on them — either out of a sense of collegiality or out of a whiff of disdain.

Former Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed (R-Maine) was one of the latter. According to the Office of the House Historian, Reed ruled the chamber with an iron fist and would frequently refuse to recognize certain members on the House floor. At one point, faced with Democrats who threatened to leave the chamber, Reed ordered the doors to the floor locked. Such behavior earned him the nickname “Czar Reed,” which stuck throughout his tenure as Speaker.

“Obviously there are bad nicknames, but there are also some good, fun nicknames that stick, and that’s part of the congeniality of the House and Congress in general — is that you can be opponents inside the chamber, but outside the chamber you can be pretty decent friends,” said Anthony Wallis, a research analyst in the historian’s office.

The nicknames that get tagged on members come from all corners of their lives.

Some originate from their colleagues in the upper chamber or the White House, as is the case with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

“[New York Democratic Sen.] Chuck Schumer and [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel always call me ‘Weezy,’ ” Slaughter said. “I don’t mind it.”

But other nicknames, as in Ruppersberger’s case, come with members to Congress. The Maryland Democrat’s nickname has been “Dutch” since the moment of his birth.

“When I was born ... the doctor came out and said to my father, ‘You have a big blond Dutchman,’ ” he said. “So they started calling me ‘Dutch,’ and when my mother and he would write letters, he’d ask, ‘How’s the Dutchman doing?’ I’ve been called Dutch all of my life.”

Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) was bestowed with his nickname, “Buck,” — after Buck Rogers — shortly after his birth, and now the next generation of McKeon’s family has taken to using the name as well.

“My dad, he was kind of a cowboy, he wanted to name me Buck,” McKeon said. “I was his first son. And my mother worked on him for nine months and finally said, ‘What about Howard?’ But they’ve always called me Buck. Some nicknames stick. Now I’ve got a nephew Buck. I’ve got a couple of grandsons named Buck. We’re spreading it out.”

Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) says he never got a nickname. As the former sparring partner of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, Brady said he intimidated people too much for them to confer a secondary moniker on him.

“Yeah, [they called me] Canvas Back,” Brady quipped. (On the contrary, he was known for staying on his feet in the boxing ring.) “No, they were too afraid to give me a nickname.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) got his nickname by working out in the House gym. When he’s wearing a T-shirt during his workouts, his colleagues can see his necklace made of puka seashells.

“When I’m in the gym I’ve got my puka shells on, and it’s very demonstrable I’m wearing puka shells,” he said. “So they call me Surfer.”

And Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) admitted that he may have some unfavorable nicknames himself.

“The things I’ve been called cannot be repeated,” he said.

For many members, their nickname is simply a shortening of their name, like Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-N.Y.), Rep. Barnett “Barney” Frank (D-Mass.) or Rep. Alexander “Al” Green (D-Texas).

But Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), an avid user of Twitter, has no idea where her short-lived nickname originated.

“For a couple of years, my father called me Tweet, starting when I was about 3 years old,” she said. “It’s certainly not because of Twitter. For him it was a term of endearment. I have no idea where it came from or why he called me that.”

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While the more than two dozen members contacted for this story would not disclose any nicknames members may have for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), several lawmakers alluded to the fact they do exist.

And even though those in leadership positions may not admit to secondary monikers, that doesn’t mean they don’t have them during their more private moments outside of Capitol Hill.

Asked about any nicknames bestowed upon him, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he’s not the best person to question.

“You’d have to ask my wife,” he said.