As anyone who follows me on Facebook and Instagram already knows, I got a kitten a couple weeks ago. He’s pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.
I’ve been trying to think of the perfect kitten name. I wanted something that had some significance here in Paraguay but could be easily pronounced be people back in the U.S.
Adding to these naming guidelines, I have recently determined that my kitten is male, a fact I hadn’t been aware of due to the smallness of the area with, well, you know… I’m pretty sure gender is a social construct not present in cat society, but I will refer to this kitten by the pronouns he/him/his.
Luckily, during a phone conversation about cats, history, and Paraguayan soccer, Shawn (my significant other) and I came up with the perfect name to satisfy all my requirements…
El Presidente Rutherford Birchard Hayes II.
That’s right, my kitten will be named after the 19th president of the United States. Probably not the first name that comes to your head when you think of Paraguay or of U.S. Presidents. Well…
¡TIME FOR A HISTORY LESSON!
There are some fun facts I’d like to share that might make you say “maybe if we learned that in school I would have remembered that the name Rutherford B. Hayes even existed.”
In 1876, Rutherford though he had lost the election and went to sleep. But there were some disputed electoral college votes, and the result ended up being decided in January of 1877 through an electoral commission established by congress for this purpose. Good ol’ Rutherford was sworn in to office in a private ceremony that March – and nicknamed Rutherfraud.
Kinda makes you go “huh. I guess our democracy has survived some pretty sketchy stuff in the past. Maybe we’ll make it through the term of a fascist egomaniac who won the election with some help from Russia and without the popular vote.”
Well, Rutherfraud Hayes was no Donald Grump. (That was a typo I purposely didn’t correct.) El Presidente RBH actually appears to have been a somewhat decent fellow.
(Note: I am calling him a decent fellow – at least in relation to our current president-elect – despite the undemocratic process which put him in the White House and despite the fact that he made the final call in withdrawing federal troops from the Southern States after the Civil War, ending an aspect of Reconstruction that possibly could have protected black Americans from some of the extreme violence and discrimination they faced after the end of slavery. This is obviously a pretty big and bloody stain on his record, though some historians argue he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter and that Reconstruction was in its final days anyway. Hayes apparently called on southern leaders to protect the rights of black people living in their states and may have genuinely believed they would do so…)
If a person can be judged by their choice of spouse, Hayes should get some credit for marrying Lucy Ware Webb. She was the first First Lady to have graduated from college, which is pretty awesome. Apparently she was instrumental in banning alcohol from the White House (temporarily), instituting the famed Easter Egg Roll, and putting in the White House’s first telephone. More importantly, she was an ardent abolitionist who reportedly moved her husband in the right direction on this important topic long before he reached the Oval Office.
Hayes was said to have fought for the Union because he saw it as a way to end slavery. He appears to have been rather naive about his fellow white people’s treatment toward both enslaved and free people of color, but he at least came down roughly on the right side of history. While campaigning for governor of Ohio, he pushed for an amendment to the State Constitution which would have allowed people of color to vote in state elections (this progress came a bit later than he hoped).
In addition to being not an entirely terrible person where race is concerned, RBH appears to have also not hated professional women. As president, he signed a bill that allowed women attorneys to appear before the Supreme Court.
He also advocated for federally protected voting rights and for education and job training for immigrants, minorities and the poor. He retired after one term and spent the rest of his life helping veterans get their pensions, improving conditions in prisons, and promoting universal education.
(Sources for all this info: Whitehouse.gov and rbhayes.org.)
So I think I feel ok with having my cat named after this guy.
(If any historians out there would like to disagree with my relatively positive profile of President Hayes, please do. I got most of my info from the website of his presidential library, which might be a bit biased.)
But why, you might ask, is Rutherford B. Hayes relevant to Paraguay?
If you look at a map of Paraguay, you may be surprised to find that one of the departamentos (like U.S. states) is named Presidente Hayes. There’s also a Villa Hayes and a professional soccer team here named Presidente Hayes. I’m sure not many people would have more than a hazy (pun most definitely intended) idea of why our 19th President is such a big deal in this small South American country.
Well, Hayes came to power just after the Triple Alliance War, in which Brazil and Argentina tried to claim large parts of Paraguay (Paraguay arguably instigated the conflict, but that’s not what we are here to discuss). The two sides of this conflict asked the U.S. to settle their dispute, and Hayes sided with Paraguay in 1878. Basically, with a handwritten letter signed on the recommendation of his State Department, Hayes secured 60% of Paraguay’s territory and its future as a nation. The people of Paraguay appear to have appreciated this.
There’s a fun NPR piece on this that basically says what I just wrote.
…I don’t really have more to say on this matter so I’ll just leave you with another adorable picture of El Presidente.