What’s in a name? Ask Gary Hartpence

  • Chicago Tribune
  • |
  • March 07, 1984

by Karen Feld

What’s in a name? Ask Gary HartpenceColorado Sen. Gary Hart, the upset winner of the New Hampshire primary and Maine caucuses, is, at 47, the youngest candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination.  He not only has the distinction of being the only candidate who has ever managed a presidential campaign – McGovern’s in 1972 – but also he’s the only candidate who legally changed his name. 

Garry Warren Hartpence was born Nov. 28, 1936, in Ottawa, Kan., 60 miles west of Kansas City.  His folks were cowboys.  Gary was their second child, the first son.  His father, a farmer and rancher, eventually went into the farm implement business. 

“The family name of our ancestors who came here in the early 18th Century was originally Hart,” says the senator. “Then a Hart married a Pence back in the 1720s.  During the Revolutionary War the two names were put together to sound less Hessian so they wouldn’t be harassed as nonpatriots.”

According to the information from his father’s family, the name Hart is Irish.  Pence is an English name. 

“Elements of the family have over the years restored it to its original form, including my father’s family,” says the senator, who vaguely recalls that his parents took back the original form of the name when he was about 18. 

“It had been discussed in our family for a long, long time.  They (his parents) decided to do it after my grandfather died,” recalls Hart, who notes that the shortened name change occurred long before his dream of running for public office. 

The senator is not the first politician in the Hart family tree.  A family of this name were burgesses of Edinburgh.  One Hart sat in Parliament for the burg in 1586.

Hart says that changing his name on school records and official documents at the age of 18 didn’t affect him.  He edited the high school newspaper, played football and tennis and ran track.  He went off to Bethany Nazarene College in Oklahoma City as Gary Warren Hart.  His older sister was already married, so she wasn’t affected at all by her parents’ decision to change their family name. 

Reluctant to discuss something as seemingly trivial as a name change in the midst of an issue-oriented campaign, candidate Hart says, “I’m going to pursue this when I’ve got some time.” One glance at his schedule indicated that that’s unlikely within the next year. “Or,” he adds, “put the archives on it when I’m president.”


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