Detangling Confusing Names

One of the most wicked mistakes you can make while doing research is confusing two people with similar names. Some people with similar names are easy to differentiate; for example the two Edmund G. Browns. Although they had similar names and held some of the same offices (Governor and Attorney General), the father and son went by very different names “Pat” and “Jerry“, which made them easy for most to tell apart.

Others are not so easy.

A Frank Jordan or Two

A father/son combo who also held high office but who didn’t use different nicknames were the two Frank Jordans who served as Secretary of State. The first, Frank C. Jordan served as Secretary of State from 1911 until his death in 1940. The second, Frank M. Jordan served from 1943 until his death in 1970.

The Bob Wilsons of San Diego

Bob Wilson, a Republican, represented San Diego in Congress from 1953 until he retired in 1980. In the 1980 election, the local State Senator, Bob Wilson, who was a Democrat, ran for the open seat. Not enough voters took the bait and the Republican held the seat. As a side note, State Senator Bob Wilson first arrived in the state legislature in 1972, when he won the special election created by the resignation of Pete Wilson.

The Bill Campbells in the Legislature

William P. “Bill” Campbell represented Los Angeles in the Assembly between 1965 and 1976, and in the Senate between 1976 and 1992. He was elected Senate Minority Leader between 1979 and 1983.

In 1996, William J. “Bill” Campbell was elected to the Assembly from Orange County, serving three terms before terming out in 2002. Bill Campbell was elected Assembly Minority Leader in 2000-2001. There was also a Bob Campbell in the Assembly from 1980 to 1996 and a Tom Campbell in the State Senate from 1993 to 1995.

Howser you gonna spell that?

This was the story of three men named Fred who, in the 1940s, served on the Supreme Court, as Lieutenant Governor, and as Attorney General.

Fred N. Howser served two terms in the Assembly (1941-1944) and as Attorney General (1947-1950). Frederick F. Houser (served three terms in the Assembly, 1931-32, 1939-1942) and as Lieutenant Governor (1943-46). Frederick W. Houser served two terms in the Assembly (1903-1906) and a member of the California Supreme Court (1937-1942). Supreme Court Justice Houser was the father of Lieutenant Governor Houser, but not related to the Attorney General.

Senators Jack and Jim

John James Hollister Sr. (he went by “Jim”) served two terms in the State Senate (1925-28 and 1937-40). John James Hollister Jr. (who went by the name “Jack”) served a little over two terms in the Senate (1955-1961).

Those East Bay George Millers

Want to drive over the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Martinez? There are two bridges that carry cars over the water, the George Miller Jr. Memorial Bridge heading south and the Congressman George Miller Benicia–Martinez Bridge heading north. In this case, the George Miller Jr. is actually the father of George Miller.

George P. Miller was elected to the State Assembly from 1937 to 1940. In 1944, he was elected to his first term in Congress. George P. Miller‘s congressional campaign was run by George Miller Jr. (no relation) who was the Chairman of the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee. Two years later, George Miller Jr. was elected to the State Assembly and, in 1948, to the State Senate where he served until he died in 1969. When George Miller Jr. died in office, his son George Miller ran for the vacant Senate seat but lost. In 1972, Congressman Miller lost the Democratic Primary to Pete Stark. In 1974, after a redistricting, Stark changed Congressional districts and George Miller won the seat, which he held until retiring in 2014.

Name recognition is great in elections, but sometimes they sure do make things confusing for historians.