If elected, the famous physician would own the shortest surname in the history of the legislative body

Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race this week adds a new wrinkle in the competitive fight for the Republican nomination that will be decided in just over a month.

With more than a half-dozen candidates slated to appear on the GOP ballot and as many as four or five possibly receiving double-digit support, candidates in the crowded field are looking for ways to stand out.

If Dr. Oz does move forward to the general election and then defeats the eventual Democratic nominee (in what is also expected to be a very close race), he would enter the U.S. Senate with a history-making victory.

At two characters, Dr. Oz would enter the chamber with the shortest surname of the approximately 2,000 members to be sworn into the office.

To date there have been 14 individuals appointed or elected to the U.S. Senate with surnames of three characters.

Two were elected to the 1st Congress: Anti-Administration southerners William Few (1789-1793) of Georgia and Richard Lee (1789-1792) of Virginia.

“Lee” is the most common surname among this group of 14 which includes Maryland Democrat Blair Lee (1914-1917), Oklahoma Democrat Joshua Lee (1937-1943), and current Utah Republican Mike Lee (2011-present).

Tennessee Democrat Luke Lea (1911-1917) could also make a case to be added to that club.

Three other U.S. Senators with three-character surnames entered the chamber during the 19th Century: New York Democrat John Dix (1845-1849), Nevada Republican James Nye (1864-1873), and Tennessee Democrat David Key (1875-1877).

Joining the Lees (and Lea) in the 20th Century are Indiana Republican Harry New (1917-1923), Louisiana Democrat Edward Gay (1918-1921), North Dakota Republican Gerald Nye (1925-1945), Missouri Republican James Kem (1945-1953), and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl (1995-2013; 2018).

As Smart Politics documented more than a decade ago, Kyl holds the all-time mark for the shortest legal first and last name in U.S. Senate history at just six characters.

Mehmet Oz trails Kyl by two characters to tie that record.

Prior to Kyl and Mike Lee, one defining characteristic of the prior dozen U.S. Senators with these very short three-character surnames was also their short service: only one of the 12, Gerald Nye, served at least 10 years.

It should be noted that long surnames don’t necessarily guarantee a great legacy in the chamber – Washington’s Lewis Schwellenbach (1935-1940) and his 13-characters do not receive much mention these days, despite his subsequent judgeship and cabinet appointments.

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on April 15, 2022 at 12:44 am

    Frederick Frelinghuysen: 1793; Theodore Frelinghuysen: 1829; Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen: appointed 1866, elected 1867 for 2-year term, elected 1871 to the Other Seat; Joseph Sherman Frelinghuysen: 1916.

    While the aforementioned extended family may have left a “great legacy” within the Garden State none of its members who served in the senate has had a long tenure within the chamber, with only Frederick Theodore reaching 10 calendar years.

    (With demographic and social changes, senators with Thai or Indonesian ancestry – who tend to have very long surnames – will build long-lasting legacies within the institution in the not-too-distant future)

  2. John Chessant on April 15, 2022 at 1:12 am

    Dr. Oz’s parents spelled their surname Öz with a diacritic mark, but Dr. Oz has dropped the diaeresis even from his legal name. Had he chosen to keep it, he would be a potential member of another rather exclusive Senate club. So far, only five members in the chamber’s history have had a surname with a diacritic mark: Jean-Noël Destréhan (DR-La.; 1812), Pierre Soulé (D-La.; 1847, 1849-1853), John C. Frémont (R-Calif.; 1850-1851), Mel Martínez (R-Fla.; 2005-2009), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.; 2021-present).

    As for non-letter characters in surnames, fewer than a dozen senators have had surnames that included a space: Nicholas Van Dyke (F-Del.; 1817-1826), Martin Van Buren (D-N.Y., 1821-1828), William F. De Saussure (D-S.C.; 1852-1853), John C. Ten Eyck (R-N.J.; 1859-1865), Peter G. Van Winkle (R-W.V.; 1863-1869), Charles Van Wyck (R-Neb.; 1881-1887), Henry A. du Pont (R-Del.; 1906-1917), his cousin T. Coleman du Pont (R-Del.; 1921-1922, 1925-1928), Frederick Van Nuys (D-Ind.; 1933-1944), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.; 2017-present), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.; 2017-present).

    And just two members have had a hyphenated surname: Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.; 1993-1999) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.; 2018-present). [Note: Moseley Braun dropped the hyphen in her name in 2003 after she left office.]

    • John Chessant on April 15, 2022 at 1:16 am

      In this set too we see a tendency for short terms: None of the senators I mentioned above have managed to serve two full terms in the Senate, though four of them are currently serving.

    • Daniel Fox on April 15, 2022 at 11:19 pm

      Too bad the Senators du Pont didn’t use their original family name: du Pont de Nemours. 15 letters (take that, Schwellenbach and Frelinghuysen!) and three spaces.

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