Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Posts Twist Facts on Democrats’ Names

Quick Take

Social media posts claim some well-known Democrats are “fraudulent and corrupt” for not using “their real names.” But in some cases, the posts refer to them by an incorrect name, a nickname, a middle name or a maiden name.

Full Story 

A conspiracy theory shared across social media platforms uses deceptions and falsehoods to accuse 11 prominent Democrats of misleading the public.

“Democrats are so fraudulent and corrupt that they don’t even use their real names with the American people,” one such meme reads.

In some cases, the posts make false claims about the supposed “real” names of the politicians. In other cases, the posts home in on their birth names and nicknames, as if evidence of deception — even though most are widely known.

We’ll go through each claim here.

  • Former President Barack “Obama’s Real Name is Barry Soetoro.”
    False. This claim appeared in an April Fools’ hoax that we debunked in 2009, which claimed that Obama enrolled at Occidental College as an international student under the name Barry Soetoro. He didn’t. “Barry” was a family nickname for Obama, and Soetoro was the surname of his Indonesian stepfather.
  • Minnesota Rep. “Ilhan Omar’s Real Name is Ilhan Esmi.”
    False. This may be part misconception and part misspelling: Omar was previously married to a man named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi. They are now divorced and she is married to Ahmed Hirsi.
  • New York Sen. “Kirsten Gillibrand’s real name is Tina Rutnick.”
    Gillibrand was born Kirsten Elizabeth Rutnik, though her nickname was Tina growing up, as she recalled in her 2014 book, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World.” She married Jonathan Gillibrand in 2001.
  • New York City Mayor “Bill DeBlasio’s real name is Warren Wilhelm Jr.”
    It’s true that de Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm Jr. — but he’s changed his name. A spokesman in 2013 told the New York Daily News that the mayor adopted his mother’s surname, de Blasio, “because his father was largely absent from his life, a fact he has been open about throughout his time in public service.” He reportedly changed his name in 1983 to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm before legally changing it again in 2001 to Bill de Blasio.
  • Former Texas Rep. “Beto Orourke is Robert Orourke.”
    O’Rourke’s name is indeed Robert O’Rourke; Beto is a nickname sometimes used for people named “Roberto,” or Robert in Spanish. O’Rourke hasn’t tried to hide that fact: His campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission, for example, use “Robert Beto O’Rourke.”
  • Vermont Sen. “Bernie Sanders is Bernard Gutman.”
    False. His name is Bernard Sanders. A 1921 U.S. immigration arrival record from Ellis Island shows that Sanders’ father, Eli (a Poland native who arrived as Eliasz Gitman and was naturalized under the name Elias Sanders), listed his mother (Bernie Sanders’ grandmother) as Jetti Gutman.
  • California Sen. “Kamala Harris is Maya Harrison.”
    False. Her full name is Kamala Devi Harris. She has a younger sister named Maya Harris.
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor “Pete Buttigeig is Paul Montgomery.”
    Buttigieg’s full name is Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg.
  • Massachusetts Sen. “Elizabeth Warren is Liz Herring.”
    “Liz” is sometimes short for Elizabeth, and her maiden name is Herring. Warren kept the surname of her first husband, Jim Warren, after they divorced in 1980.
  • New Jersey Sen. “Cory Booker was known as Tony Booker.”
    Booker’s full name is Cory Anthony Booker.
  • Former Attorney General “Eric Holder is Eric Himpton.”
    False. Holder’s full name is Eric Himpton Holder Jr.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.


Booker, Cory Anthony.” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed 24 Jul 2019.

Dr. Shyamala G. Harris.” Obituary. Legacy.com. 22 Mar 2009.

Eric H. Holder (2009-2015).” Miller Center, University of Virginia. Accessed 25 Jul 2019.

Gillibrand, Kirsten. “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World.” Ballantine Books, 2014.

Jackson, Brooks. “Was Obama Born in the USA?” FactCheck.org. 7 May 2009.

O’Rourke, Robert Beto – Candidate Overview.” Federal Election Commission. Accessed 24 Jul 2019.

Omar, Ilhan.” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed 29 Jul 2019.

Pak, Nataly. “Who is Pete Buttigieg?” ABC News. 31 Jan 2019.

Sanders, Bernard.” Biographical Director of the United States Congress. Accessed 29 Jul 2019.

Smith, Greg B. “Mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio has had three different legal names, court records show.” New York Daily News. 22 Sep 2013.

Tavernise, Sabrina. “How Elizabeth Warren Learned to Fight.” The New York Times. 24 Jun 2019.

Share the Facts
FactCheck.org rating logo FactCheck.org Rating:
Distorts the Facts
Viral posts claim to present a list of the "real names" of 11 prominent Democrats.
Sunday, July 21, 2019