There have been 112 Supreme Court justices in the history of the United States, but only a handful of those Justices have had truly extraordinary names. This is my humble attempt to recognize those Justices who set themselves apart simply by being appointed to the Court and showing up with cool names (though obviously, many of those folks ended up doing much more than that).
9. Tie – John Jay, Thomas Todd, David Davis, & Sonia Sotomayor. I like alliteration. Also, John Jay is the namesake of a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Davis is the namesake of a lot of people, and Sotomayor means “major river vegetation,” or maybe “more Soto,” which reminds me of that Saturday Night Live “more cowbell” sketch. I don’t have anything interesting to say about Thomas Todd’s name, but he’s been called “the most insignificant Justice,” so it seems like he should be on some sort of positive list. And get his image reproduced to the right.
8. John Marshall Harlan & John Marshall Harlan II. First, their names are the combination of the names of two Chief Justices, John Marshall and Harlan Stone. Second, the fact that the first Justice Harlan and his grandson, II, shared the same name allowed me in my first year of law school, fresh off my one semester of History of Art, to refer to them as Harlan the Elder and Harlan the Younger, in the style of references to a famous Flemish painter and his son. And when I say “refer to” I mean “refer to them in my head so as not to frighten others.”
7. Potter Stewart. His name sounds like it’s backwards (isn’t Stewart Potter a much more normal name?) which makes him sound all the more like a judge. Also bonus points for coining the phrase “I know it when I see it” which is useful in so many situations (i.e., “I can’t explain the criteria for what makes a great Supreme Court Justice name, but I know it when I see it.”).
5. Tie — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. & Oliver Ellsworth. My inclusion of one of the most famous members of the Supreme Court and the third Chief Justice is really just an excuse to mention Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch, who was such an awful character that he has his own syndrome named after him. You thought maybe I should mention Willis Van Devanter here and make a Different Strokes reference? Whatcha talkin’ bout, reader?
4. Tie — William Paterson, Thurgood Marshall, John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Salmon P. Chase, Sandra Day O’Connor & Benjamin Cardozo. These Justices have colleges or law schools named after them (two law schools in John Marshall’s case, and a university and separate law school in Brandeis’ case). Do you have any colleges or law schools named after you? Didn’t think so.
3. Bushrod Washington. Bushrod was George Washington’s nephew, and inherited Mount Vernon from him. The next most prominent Bushrod in history may be Bushrod Johnson, who was one of the few Confederate generals born and raised in the North. The Golden Age of People Named Bushrod seems to have ended in about 1870.
2. Hugo Black. If this weren’t a real name for a Supreme Court Justice, I would write a screenplay just so it could include a judge character with this name. Also, his name sounds kind of like a Bond villain.
1. Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II. This was never really a contest. In truth, L.Q.C. Lamar’s name was the inspiration for this entire list. Lucius’s father, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar I, apparently had an “eccentric” uncle in Georgia who asserted some sort of naming rights over his nephew and named him after the early Roman statesman, the indirect namesake of Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s unclear whether Lucius the Elder, a Judge in Georgia, actually liked the name, or thought the his son should endure the same obstacles that he did. Lucius the Younger moved to Mississippi and, in an age when lawyers weren’t terrified of math, taught mathematics at Ole Miss (which was presumably known as New Miss at the time). He later represented Mississippi in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then pushed for Mississippi secession. Despite serving in the Confederate army and as a Confederate diplomat, in 1873 he was again elected to the House of Representatives and became the first Democrat from Mississippi to serve in Congress after the Civil War, and later called for reconciliation between the North and South, which John F. Kennedy discussed in Profiles in Courage. He subsequently represented Mississippi in the Senate and was Secretary of the Interior under Grover Cleveland. Appointed to the Court by Cleveland in 1888, he served for five years and died in 1893. While his time on the Court was relatively brief and uneventful, it was enough for him to land at the top of this list. (Also, he had a cool beard, but so did many of the justices in the last half of the Nineteenth Century.)