The Supreme Court is not usually considered particularly funny, except perhaps in circles fond of morbid humor (and by Larry Flynt). That hasn’t stopped some enterprising students from making pointless, if amusing studies about which justices are funniest. Clearly their methodology is flawed from our perspective. What we care about is how funny a justice’s name sounds, not so much how funny their jokes are. That’s why the honorable Salmon P. Chase was one of our very first posts here, and why the list of Supreme Court Justices is one we return to again and again to celebrate the finest-named legal minds in America’s history.
Which brings us to Bushrod Washington, nephew of George Washington, and Supreme Court Justice in the in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
My thorough (ok, 60-second long) investigation into the subject reveals that Bushrod is supposed to be pronounced “Buh-SHRahd”, but no one does so because just saying “bush rod” instead is far more hilarious. It apparently has its roots in Old Danish or Old German, meaning “young shrub”, which is just a great thing to name a child after, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
(If the name caught your interest, I suggest you head on over to Bushrod.com and learn more, including information on bed & breakfasts carrying the name).
His parents (including George Washington’s brother – now there’s something to live up to) perhaps never used the so-called Supreme Court Justice Test, which of course delightfully means that the name Bushrod by the rule of precedents now passes said informal baby-naming test each and every time.
The Great Bushrod had other accomplishments in his lifetime. He was one of the very first members of the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity at the College of William and Mary, placing him in good company on that group’s list of members alongside Jeb Bush, Kris Kristofferson, Henry Kissinger and Eliot Spitzer, some of whom it is easier to picture in a fraternity than others, but perhaps life at Phi Beta Kappa isn’t quite as much like Animal House as I like to think.
Bushrod lived out the last part of his life at his Uncle George’s famous Mount Vernon estate, having inherited it in 1799. He still lays there with wife to this day, and is hopefully nodding approvingly at our celebration of his name and achievements.