I assume that by the time he ran for President in 1960, every newspaper reader would have recognized the initialism "JFK" as a reference to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But what about in 1957, when Navy Log aired an episode titled "P.T. 109"? Or 1953, when he was elected Senator from Massachusetts? Or 1940, when he graduated Harvard? Or 1917, when he was born?

When did Kennedy become "JFK"?

(And if the process was gradual, e.g. if the answer is "'50s in Massachusetts, '60s elsewhere," that would be nice to know, too.)

2 Answers 2


Semi-answering my own question: I don't see any usage of "JFK" in NewspaperArchive.com prior to August 1960. The earliest newspaper reference I've found is from the San Antonio Express of 1960-08-18, "GOP, Demos Trade Gags":

... In Dallas, the Texas Democratic Committee came up with a battle slogan of its own: a "Frontier License" that reads "4-JFK-LBJ" All The Way. The license was unveiled by Chairman J.E. (Ed) Connally [No, the one you're thinking of was John B. Connally; this one was the husband of Virginia Boyd Connally, first female physician in Abilene] ...

By 1960-12-08, the Tucson Daily Citizen could write the headline "JFK Will Take Reins In Hands."

There's also these interesting items:

(Tucson Daily Citizen, 1960-12-12)
MONIKER TROUBLES — American newspapers are in something of a stew. What will headline writers call our next president?
In a dispatch sent to telegraph editors by the United Press International, the whole business is given quite an airing.
Suggests a California editor, "If we can call Eisenhower Ike, don't see why we can't call Kennedy Jack. Would prefer it to JFK because of LBJ. Or how about 'Fitz'?"
The dean of a school of journalism has this to say: "If I may toss in my unsolicited nickel's worth, let me register a hearty vote in favor of JFK if initials or abbreviations of some kind must be used to designate the President of the United States in headlines. I have seen Jack a few times and I think it is in bad taste. I hope it doesn't catch on."
A Pennsylvania editor says, "We're going to go along with JFK whenever we find it impossible to use the full name 'Kennedy.'"
Finally then, this from a Massachusetts newsman: "In relation to all the childish comment on what to call Kennedy—JFK, Jack, or Kennedy—just don't call him 'Mr. K.' If Ike was acceptable, then who is Jack that we should give him the falsities of British royalty in a world that needs more personal touch than ever!"
Or how about the Kid?

(Nome Nugget, 1961-01-04)
DON'T CALL ME "JACK" — Palm Beach, Fla. (AP) — President-elect John F. Kennedy wishes newspapers would stop referring to him as "Jack" in headlines.
But he has no objection to use his initials, JFK.
Kennedy wants it understood, however, that he is making no strong protest about the "Jack" headlines. It's just that he feels they aren't in keeping with the dignity of office of the President.
It was brought up by a reporter who asked the Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, how Kennedy feels about headlines referring to him.

So it seems at first glance that the term "JFK" was invented only by necessity, after Election Day 1960; before that, he was just "Kennedy."

  • 1
    Good as far as it goes; but where is the evidence of absence prior to that? Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 20:11
  • @PieterGeerkens Right in the first paragraph: "I don't see any usage of "JFK" in NewspaperArchive.com prior to August 1960."
    – cmw
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 0:01
  • It is possible to find lots of what proports to be campaign paraphernalia (buttons, bumper stickers) with "JFK" on it. Its tough to 100% verify the dating on those, but if they are genuine campaign materials they would obviously predate election day 1960.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 13:39

I have a distinct recollection of watching a news conference with Lyndon Johnson soon after he was named as Kennedy's running mate in 1960. Johnson's slogan during the 1960 campaign was, "All the way with LBJ." At that new conference I recall Johnson modify his own slogan and say, "This country is going all the way with JFK." That's the first time I heard "JFK" and perhaps that's the origin of the term.

  • 3
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    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 19:16
  • Perhaps the answer to the "JFK" question can be found in the New York Times article, July 16, 1960: "The Meaning of LBJ Redefined by Johnson" Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 4:19
  • 1
    There was in fact a song made with that slogan in 1960 for the campaign (although sadly it didn't use "JFK" but the similarly triple-syllabled "Kennedy").
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 13:36
  • 1
    I like this answer, original source. Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 23:39

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