If you want to be president, your chances of winning office will be best if your name parses out as a trochee, preferably a double trochee, as in the case of Harry Truman, Andrew Jackson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, Chester Arthur, Jimmy Carter, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, Andrew Johnson, and all four of the presidents whose first and last names begin with the same initial (Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan). [Ed. note: A trochee is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed beat preceding an unstressed beat, the inverse of the normative iamb, in which the stressed beat follows the unstressed.] Twenty-one presidents have trochaic last names. Eisenhower's last name is a double trochee.
If greatness is your aim, consider having a dactyl for your surname: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, the two Roosevelts, Kennedy.
On the other hand, the evidence suggests that an administration headed by a one-syllable name (Polk, Pierce, Grant, Hayes,Taft, Ford, the two Bushes) will prove undistinguished.
The trochaic method of judging electoral odds has proved accurate in every instance except years when both candidates have metrically identical names, as in 1948 and 2000, effectively neutralizing the system.
Applied to this year's presumptive nominees, metrical theory predicts a narrow victory by Barack Obama.
"Barack Obama" in metrics equals two iambs followed by an extra unstressed syllable, like half a pyrrhic foot. [Ed. note: The technical term for a stressed foot flanked on both sides by an unstressed syllable is an amphibrach.] The name has a feminine ending. There are three precedents among presidents past: "Martin Van Buren," "James Buchanan," and "William McKInley."
"John McCain" translates as an iamb preceded by the stressed half of an invisible iamb. The one predecessor among US Presidents is "James Monroe." McCain alliterates with Monroe and James Madison. But "Monroe" is also one of several presidential names (Pierce, Fillmore, Coolidge) ending in a vowel, as Obama's does. Obama would, however, be the first whose last name ends in a vowel other than e, one sign of his originality. He would join Chester Arthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the two Adamses as commanders-in-chief whose last name does not commence with a consonant.
History, when there is no incumbent, traditionally sides with the candidate with the greater number of beats in his last name (Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960, Eisenhower vs. Stevenson in 1952) except when the opposition is a single spondee [Ed. note: two strong beats in a row], as in 1988 when the first George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. The groundbreaking fact that "Obama" begins and ends with a vowel is an anomaly that historians will doubtlessly ponder.