• From: Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Robert Paul)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: 30 Jun 2004 13:08:50 PDT

>Obviouly you were thinking of Mrs.  Clinton, who was christened after first
climber to Mt. Everest.<

This may well be an urban legend, prompted by a playful remark of Senator
Clinton's in 1995.

From <http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/hillary.asp>

Origins:   During a stop in Nepal while on a south Asian goodwill tour in April
1995, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton engaged in a brief (and reportedly
coincidental) meeting with Sir Edmund Hillary (who, along with Tenzing Norgay,
became the first person to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain, Mt.
Everest, in 1953) and told reporters she had been named after the famed mountain
climber. The notion that Ms. Clinton's given name was inspired by the man who
conquered Everest was almost certainly a bit of fiction invented for political
expediency (as many critics have noted, Edmund Hillary didn't become
world-famous until six years after Hillary Rodham was born), but there are some
subtleties to this claim which should be considered before it is completely

*       Hillary Clinton said her mother, Dorothy Rodham, "had read an article 
the intrepid Edmund Hillary, a one-time beekeeper who had taken to mountain
climbing, when she was pregnant in 1947 and liked the name." Although it is true
that Edmund Hillary did not perform the feat that made him a household name
throughout the English-speaking world until 1953 (by which time Hillary Rodham
was already six years old), it is not true, as many skeptics have asserted, that
Edmund Hillary was nothing more than an obscure Auckland beekeeper until then.
Even before World War II he was already a serious mountain climber who boasted
to a friend that "some day I'm going to climb Everest," and by 1947 he was
honing the necessary skills on the peaks of the Southern Alps. It's certainly
possible young Edmund was profiled in some periodical as far back in 1947. 

However, how likely was Dorothy Rodham, a Chicago housewife, to have seen an
article about a New Zealand mountain climber? We can't say for sure (other than
noting that a search of the Chicago Tribune turned up no articles on Edmund
Hillary in 1947) -- the best we could do was to perform a comparative experiment
by querying the New York Times historical database to find the earliest mention
'Edmund Hillary' in that publication. The results revealed that Edmund Hillary's
name did not appear at all in the pages of the New York Times until 1953, so
it's probably fair to say that the American media paid him little note prior to
his successful assault on Mt. Everest that year.

*       Whether or not Dorothy Rodham might have come across mention of Edmund 
in 1947, the story about her daughter's name doesn't quite jibe with the
circumstances. Depending upon how one interprets Hillary Clinton's claim, either
seeing Edmund Hillary's name in print inspired her mother to name her 'Hillary'
(even though she came across it being used a surname rather than a first name),
or it inspired her to use the less-common spelling of 'Hillary' rather than
'Hilary' when naming her daughter. However, 'Hilary' (spelled with one 'l') was
a common woman's name which Dorothy Rodham would undoubtedly already have seen
and heard hundreds of times before reading about Edmund Hillary, and the two-l
spelling, while less common, was one she was far more likely to have encountered
reading about persons (both male and female) much more prominent than Edmund
Hillary in 1947, such as film actress Hillary Brooke and Cornell football and
basketball star Hillary Chollet.

*       Hillary Clinton didn't technically claim the story of how she came by 
first name was literally true (at least in any of the accounts we've found); she
said her mother told her it was true -- a minor but important distinction given
how often parents make up harmless little fibs to amuse their children or
misremember past events. But even that weakened version of the claim doesn't
really pass muster, because it doesn't appear in any news stories about the
First Lady written prior to her 1995 south Asian tour, and every appearance of
it in news articles since then refers to that single 1995 account. If Hillary
Clinton thought an anecdote about the origins of her name was entertaining
enough to repeat to the press when she met Sir Edmund Hillary in 1995, how come
she has never mentioned it at any other time, before or since? 

Moreover, none of the many Hillary Clinton biographies we checked so much as
mentioned the story, not even Living History, her 2003 autobiography. A
staggering amount of information has been published about Hillary Rodham Clinton
in her lifetime (going all the way back to her days as a Wellesley College
graduate in 1969, when she was featured in Life magazine) -- isn't it odd that a
basic fact such as how she got her name has been disclosed only once in all that
time? (Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, did repeat the claim in his
2004 autobiography.)

Given the available facts, it's difficult to view the claim that Hillary Clinton
was named after Edmund Hillary as anything but a little white lie concocted for
a special occasion. Only her mother, Dorothy Rodham, knows for sure, but so far
she hasn't spoken up on the subject. 
Last updated:   25 June 2004 

The URL for this page is http://www.snopes.com/politics/clintons/hillary.asp
Urban Legends Reference Pages (c) 1995-2004 
by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson 

Forwarded for scholarly purposes by Robert Paul robert.paul@xxxxxxxx
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