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Captain America was created explicitly as a patriotic character. From his superhero name to his flag-themed costume, to Steve Rogers being literally born on the 4th of July, the clear purpose behind the character is hard to miss. Heck, his best friend was even named after historical President: James Buchanan.

Uhhh... wait a second. James Buchanan?!? The guy widely considered the worst President in the history of the USA? The President whose calamitous policies did so much to divide the nation and bring about the Civil War? That hardly seems in-keeping with the patriotic theme seen elsewhere!

Out of everyone they could have picked to name Steve's best friend after, why him? Have the Marvel authors ever talked about the rationale for this?

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    For a start have you got a link that shows that Barnes was named after Buchanan? Nov 28, 2021 at 14:01
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    @MasonWheeler That fact needs to be edited in to your question.
    – Spencer
    Nov 28, 2021 at 14:09
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    Reliable source for “The guy widely considered the worst President in the history of the USA? The President whose calamitous policies did so much to divide the nation and bring about the Civil War?” Nov 28, 2021 at 14:14
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    Hmm. The name Bucky came from the name of a friend of the character's creator and appears to have nothing to do with James Buchanan. "The boy companion was simply named Bucky, after my friend Bucky Pierson, a star on our high school basketball team. The surname Barnes appears in Captain America #1 but I'm not sure when James got appended to the name though
    – Valorum
    Nov 28, 2021 at 16:34
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    It's possible that the boyhood friend of the character's creator was the one named after President James Buchanan. As to how the president ranked, here is a chart of rankings by historians. Buchanan is usually rated as the worst or second-worst out of the presidents (Trump beat him out of the worst position in one of the polls). Nov 28, 2021 at 20:23

2 Answers 2

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The evidence suggests Bucky wasn't named after President Buchanan, at least not originally.

When Bucky first appeared in Captain America Comics #1, he was introduced simply as "Bucky Barnes".

At camp Lehigh of the United States Army Bucky Barnes, mascot of the regiment, approches Private Steve Rogers...

Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941)

enter image description here

His co-creator, Joe Simon, stated in his autobiography -- The Comic Book Makers (2003) -- that the name 'Bucky' was derived from Bucky Pierson, a friend of his, who happened to be a star on their high school basketball team.

JOE SIMON: "The boy companion was simply named Bucky, after my friend Bucky Pierson, a star on our high school basketball team."

The Winter Soldier: 15 Things Only True Fans Know About Bucky Barnes

Googling 'Bucky Pierson' brought up a record from the Pro Basketball Encyclopedia. The full name of this Bucky Pierson is listed as William Edward Pierson, and given that the year of birth (1913) and hometown (Rochester, NY) listed for him are the same as those listed for Joe Simon on his Grand Comics Database page, it seems very likely that he was the same person Simon went to school with. Assuming he was the same person, his full name suggests he wasn't named after President Buchanan either.

According to the Grand Comics Database page for Captain America Vol. 1 #252, Marvel Bucky's full name of 'James Buchanan Barnes' was first revealed in a back-up feature in that issue, written by Roger Stern, and titled "The Life and Times of Captain America!".

James Buchanan Barnes -- A.K.A. Bucky

Captain America Vol. 1 #252 (December, 1980)

enter image description here

Given that close to forty years had passed since Bucky's first appearance by this point, and that neither Simon nor Kirby were indicated to have any direct involvement in this issue, it seems unlikely that they had any hand in the decision to give Bucky the first and middle names of 'James' and 'Buchanan'.

What seems more likely is that those names were thought up by a later writer -- quite possibly Stern -- so that the character could finally have a full and plausible-sounding legal name ('Bucky' sounds rather improbable as a given name on a birth certificate).

Continuing this train of thought, it also seems likely that whoever thought up those names worked backwards from the previously established name of 'Bucky Barnes', and came up with 'Buchanan' as a name that 'Bucky' could conceivably be a shortened form of.

The addition of the first name of 'James' might therefore have been more an afterthought, than a conscious attempt to evoke the name or record of the 15th President of the United States. 'James Buchanan Barnes' does roll quite nicely off the tongue, just in terms of the way those names flow together.

Whether or not the person who gave Bucky his first and middle names actually had President Buchanan in mind -- or wanted readers to associate Bucky with him in some way -- I cannot say, but if anyone does know the answer to those questions, my money would be on Roger Stern.


In case it's of interest, from an in-universe perspective, it appears Bucky was named 'James' after his father. Or at least, it does based on Captain America and Bucky #620, where Bucky is referred to as 'James Barnes Junior', and his father as 'Jimmy'.

James Barnes Junior? May we come in?

Captain America and Bucky #620 (September, 2011)

enter image description here

MAJOR SAMSON: Guess I should've expected it... your pop took a while to get over his quick temper too.

BUCKY: What? My dad...?

MAJOR SAMSON: Sure, when we were in boot camp, Jimmy nearly washed out a few times for brawling... almost decked our drill sergeant even...

Captain America and Bucky #620 (September, 2011)

enter image description here

However, Bucky's entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z #2 and his Marvel.com bio list his father's name as 'George M. Barnes'. Not sure if that apparent inconsistency has been addressed or reconciled within any official source. I'll update my answer if I find any more relevant info.

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  • This also suggests some likelihood that Bucky's father was named after President Buchanan; he'd have been born in the 1880s or early 1890s, when Buchanan was still in living memory, and every President has his lifelong fans (Nixon and Trump, for instance).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:45
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    As I noted in comments elsewhere, an earlier example of Bucky's name being given as "James Buchanan Barnes" was in a character profile titled "The Life and Times of Captain America!" from Captain America #252, December 1980 (like the story you mention, this was also written by Roger Stern). The profile was reprinted in Captain America: War & Remembrance, and the page on that one from comics.org says of "The Life and Times..." that "Bucky's full name, James Buchanan Barnes, is first revealed here."
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:14
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FRAME CHALLENGE

How do you know the middle name of "Buchanan" didn't come from Frank Buchanan, John Buchanan, David M. Buchanan, Robert Christie Buchanan, or because his mother's side of the family came from Scotland and was part of Clan Buchanan?

You're making the assumption on where the name came from, simply based on the name being shared with a famous person. I have the same name as a famous Canadian reporter, but I guarantee I'm not named after him as my parents would never have heard of him until after I was born.

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  • The fact that it's snarky doesn't invalidate the clear fact that it is a frame-challenge, but you're right that it doesn't offer useful evidence. Perhaps Keith Morrison could improve the answer by quoting "The Origin of His Name" section from this listicle which offers a quote from the autobiography of Bucky Barnes creator Joe Simon, in which he says that he got the name from his childhood friend Bucky Pierson.
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 29, 2021 at 20:02
  • I pointed out several other famous people (if the character, in-universe, had been named after a famous Buchanan in the first place) who could have been just as likely a source as the president. Robert Christie Buchanan was a decorated Union officer. David M. Buchanan won the Medal of Honor in 1879 for rescuing another sailor who'd gone overboard. Frank Buchanan was a steelworker who served three terms in Congress, and there were a number of John Buchanans just in American politics. I didn't pick those names at random. Nov 29, 2021 at 22:50
  • The OP didn't specify they were asking about the in-universe origin of the name, I assumed it was a question about the out-of-universe inspiration since they asked "Have the Marvel authors ever talked about the rationale for this?" (as opposed to asking if there was ever a comic that showed the in-universe inspiration) And like I said in my last comment, the creator of the character explicitly said he chose the name based on a childhood friend, not any famous historical figure. Feel free to add this to your answer, if not I'll write my own answer with this info.
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 29, 2021 at 23:38
  • I looked into this, I hadn't realized that although the character was originally just named Bucky Barnes, at some point later it was added as a retcon that his given name was James Buchanan Barnes (the OP hadn't mentioned that this is his official full name in the current canon). So even though Bucky Barnes' original creator wasn't inspired by President James Buchanan, some later writer probably was (according to this page on comics.org the name first appeared in "The Life and Times of Captain America!" from December 1980, by Roger Stern and John Byrne)
    – Hypnosifl
    Nov 30, 2021 at 17:04

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