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What’s in a Name? How Washington's Birthday became President's Day (Or Did It?)

Washington Monument When I was growing up in New Hampshire, we always celebrated Lincoln's birthday, as well as (just a few weeks later) Washington's birthday. Somewhere along the way, though, the two days seemed to merge into one federal holiday: President's Day. I've always assumed this was a matter of practicality and efficiency, but also of making sure that other presidents got recognition, too.

Turns out, it's not that simple.

In fact, there is no federal holiday known as President's Day. Are you surprised? I was! While it's commonly referred to as President's Day, the actual federal holiday—celebrated on the third Monday of February—still remains Washington's Birthday.

A proposal in the 1960s would have legally changed the federal holiday's name to President's Day, but that proposal died in committee. Still, the idea lingered and by the mid-1980s there was a push (most notably from advertisers) to change the official name of the holiday to President's Day. So while the official name of the federal holiday remains Washington's Birthday, many of us grew up referring to it as President's Day.

Of course, the states have also played a role in this confusion. In Washington, the official name of the state holiday is President's Day; in California, it's still called Washington's Birthday; and in some states, such as New Mexico, it's referred to as Washington's and Lincoln's Birthday. You can find out what your state officially calls the holiday at this link.

The advertisers have been successful though. I grew up in New Hampshire, where the day has always been known as Washington's Birthday—but since about high school I've always called it President's Day. What about you?

Despite the holiday, Rockwell Institute is open for business as usual, so if you have any questions or need assistance, don't hesitate to call.