Plus: Ben-Hur and Davy Crockett |

August 18, 2016

By Lily Rothman

When we started our series Now You Know a few weeks ago with the goal of finding historians to answer your most pressing (or most random) history questions, I was just as excited to find out what you would ask as I was to learn the answers. And boy has that excitement been rewarded: the intrepid Merrill Fabry has investigated the evolution of presidential pants, drunkenness in the White House, the history of long hair and much more.

This week, she answers another lingering question: what’s the deal with middle names?

“I'm always amazed that I can find people whose expertise covers these questions,” Merrill told me. “There's an entire field about naming called onomastics, which includes both place names and people's names!”

Do you have a question about history? Let us know at and you may find your answer in a future edition of Now You Know.

Here’s more of the history that made news this week:

Fact-Checking ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’

Crockett was really born on Aug. 17, 1786—but not on a mountaintop

Meet the First Woman to Play Professional Football

Pat Palinkas took the field on Aug. 15, 1970

Literally Epic Photos From the Making of the Classic 'Ben-Hur'

Revisit the Hollywood film that's now being reimagined with Morgan Freeman

Meet the Man Who Encouraged Trump to Run in 1987

"I planted a seed that has taken root and is now growing into a tree"

A New Way of Seeing Indian Independence and the Brutal 'Great Migration’

Notes found in LIFE's archives lend new depths of meaning to Margaret Bourke-White's photos of the partition of India and Pakistan


Aug. 2, 1948

The Race for Gold

“The XlVth Olympiad was one touch of glory for men who regularly perform in large football stadiums occupied, often as not, by a few dear friends of the family and second-string sportwriters. At Wembley stadium, all the months of sweating and striving by more than 5,000 competitors would end in glory or defeat in a matter of seconds or minutes.” (Aug. 2, 1948)

Read the full story

July 4, 1977

Summertime in America, 1977

“Americans are in the mood to relax; they may feel that they have earned it. Much of the nation spent the spring thawing out from the coldest American winter in two centuries. Now, with a new President and a cautious Administration just entering its sixth month, the U.S. seems in full moral convalescence from the years that gave it assassinations, urban riots, a lost war, an abdicated President, severe recession, inflation and an oil embargo.” (July 4, 1977)

Read the full story

Aug. 18, 1958

This Week in 1958: Jack Paar

“His mother and Billy Graham think he should have been a minister. He himself thinks perhaps he should have tried to be a missionary, like Albert Schweitzer. Some of television's unseen but much-heard word merchants think he would have made a fine gag writer. Walter Winchell plainly thinks he should have been put into an ablative nose cone on a one-way rocket trip to the moon. Sponsors of late movies think he should have stayed in daytime television, and all across the land, people who like to go to sleep early think he should have stood in bed — and given them a chance to get to bed too.” (Aug. 18, 1958)

Read the full story


Oops At the Washington Post, the new episode of the Presidential Podcast takes a look at just how wrong the pre-election polling was in 1948, when Truman beat Dewey.

If You’re Going to San Francisco …check out this New York Times guide to the city’s important gay history sites.

Fit to Lead John Dewey contributes a Slate language blog on the topic of what exactly the word “temperament” has meant in terms of presidential-ness, from 1816 to today.

What If Live Science interviews Chuck Klosterman about his new book But What If We’re Wrong?, which asks a fascinating question: how would it change the way we view our lives if we were to imagine looking back at them from the future?

On a Lighter Note… To end with some satire: The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts column features Eileen Curtright with “History’s Worst Parents Face the Wrath of the Comments Section.”

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