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If, for example, Hilary Clinton becomes President, will Bill re-enter the White House as 'the First Gentleman of America'?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Hellion, medica, Brian Hooper, choster, FumbleFingers Feb 14 '14 at 0:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Someone has to ask: Is Mr Clinton a gentleman? – Andrew Leach Feb 12 '14 at 8:43
Bill Clinton would always be referred to as the "former President" of the USA. – Mari-Lou A Feb 12 '14 at 8:43
@Andrew Leach Why do you think he is not? – Albertus Feb 12 '14 at 14:19
@Mari-LouA Side question: Is he really referred to as “former president”? In many countries, presidents are simply referred to as “president” all their life, even after leaving office. – Relaxed Feb 12 '14 at 16:11
@espertus The silence in response to your question speaks volumes. DT was not one who courted the public eye a great deal. He was too busy attending business lunches,playing golf and watching rugby around the world. I don't remember him being called anything, other than 'the husband of the Prime Minister'. Britain does these things rather differently to America. The wife of the Prime Minister is not normally referred to as 'the First Lady', other than by the American news media. And then there are often disapproving voices who say that that title belongs to the Queen. – WS2 Feb 12 '14 at 22:39
up vote 11 down vote accepted

There's no official title of First Lady, and hence there can be no official equivalent.

The Whitehouse may favour a particular term—and quite likely opposition pundits will favour another—, but whether "First Gentleman", "First Spouse", "First Consort", "First Husband", or "First Man" wins out, will be a matter of competing terms in a language rather than anything we can confidently predict now.

The possibility of a former First Lady becoming president colours things, because the US has the unusual practice of using the title President for former presidents. Hence while "First Lady" is used as both a description of the rôle and as an (unofficial) title, it is likely that in this particular case the title President would mostly be used as an (honorary) title, as it is now.

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Two Presidents in the White House, sounds a bit like the French (sexist) metaphor - 'deux femmes dans la même cuisine'. 'Two housewives in the same kitchen' is supposed to be potentially disastrous. – WS2 Feb 12 '14 at 10:14
@WS2, some pundits might even explain that French metaphor by saying "it would be like having two presidents in the Whitehouse" (or perhaps I'm giving them the benefit of quicker wit than they have). – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '14 at 10:17
Wouldn't the title, "President" be confusing, if there were two Presidents in the White House? The Roman Catholic Church has in theory two popes, but Pope Benedict XVI is now referred to as Pope Emeritus of the Catholic Church, there can only be one Pope. Likewise there can only be one President of the US. – Mari-Lou A Feb 12 '14 at 11:03
There are often two or more presidents in the Whitehouse, so there's certainly a protocol for distinguishing the president from a president. How it works in practice when a president is also the spouse of the president is something we'll have to see if it does indeed come up; there is not yet a clear rule on the matter. The fact that they'll also have the same surname will not help matters, though I'm sure President Bush must have visited his son, President Bush, during the latter's time in office. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '14 at 11:09
I believe it would be the former President Bush who paid visits to the (then actual) President (W.Bush) of the USA. I read that the convention for naming ex-presidents as President Carter, President W.Bush etc., is one used by newspapers to facilitate identification. – Mari-Lou A Feb 12 '14 at 12:16

Not if British practice is anything to go by. The wife of the British Head of State is The Queen, but the husband of the British Head of State is not The King. Equality rules, but it doesn’t reign.

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Another (probably equally irrelevant) British case: many towns have a Lady Mayoress, who has a ceremonial role accompanying the Mayor. When the Mayor happens to be female, the Lady Mayoress is often a female friend or relative of the Mayor. – Colin Fine Feb 12 '14 at 8:48
There are other anomalies. The eldest son of a Duke becomes a Duke on his father’s death, but a daughter, even if an only child, doesn’t become a Duchess. The wife of a knight is called Lady X, but the husband of a dame is not called Sir X. And even female members of the UK’s upper house of parliament address their colleagues, male and female, as ‘my lords’. – Barrie England Feb 12 '14 at 8:54
Whether the husband or wife of the monarch receives the title depends on an act of parliament. It's far more than an honorific, it implies inheritance of the throne. This is not relevant for the US presidency, where the title is an honorific. – jwenting Feb 12 '14 at 9:28
Of course, the British Head of State was also once a co-regency, which introduces another case; King Billy was King William III of England & Ireland and King William II of Scotland, while Queen Mary was Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland in her own right. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '14 at 10:11
The husband of the Dutch queen likewise is not a king, whereas the wife of the king is a queen. I always understood that to be a result of the presumption that a king outranks a queen. – oerkelens Feb 12 '14 at 10:23

Personal opinion here, and I'm not an American but then neither are Barrie England or Jon Hanna.

My instincts tell me that if Hilary Clinton were to be President of the USA, her husband Bill Clinton would still be referred to as "former President of the USA". I checked and sources seem to confirm this.

Is a Former President Addressed as President (name)?
I have been directing people to refer to former presidents as President (last name).
Is that correct?
--- Anna McD

Dear Ms. McDonald:
This issue is complicated since we hear former Presidents referred to as President Clinton and President Bush on the media all the time; Here's what is the correct formula as it appears in my book
Former President of the United States [...]

This is the traditional approach for any office of which there is only one office-holder at a time. So, with officials such as mayors, governors or presidents ... only the current office holder is addressed as Mr. Mayor, Governor, or Mr. President ... formers are not addressed that way. That's not to say some reporter might not call a former mayor Mayor Smith or a former president President (Surname). But doing so is incorrect and confusing to the public. The former office holder is no longer due the precedence and courtesies we extend to the current office holder. He or she speaks with the authority of a private citizen. We honor former office holder's service, but the 'form of address' -- which acknowledges the responsibilities and duties of office -- belongs only to current office holder. With offices of which are many office-holders at a time ... senators, admirals, judges, etc. addressing 'formers' with their former honorific not disrespectful to a singular current office holder.
To explain the correct form I would say "using the title of a former position is flattering to the former official and he or she may not correct you, but is not respectful to the current office holder. There's only one "(name of the office)" at a time." Source

The following piece of advice actually claims it is acceptable and correct to refer to an ex-President as simply as Mr (Surname/Lastname) This could well be the case if Hilary Clinton should ever win the election to be the first woman president of the US. Her husband would then be referred to as Mr Bill Clinton.

When addressing a former President of the United States in a formal setting, the correct form is “Mr. LastName.” (“President LastName” or “Mr. President” are terms reserved for the current head of state.) This is true for other ex-officials, as well.

When talking about the person to a third party, on the other hand, it’s appropriate to say, “former President LastName.” This holds for introductions, as well: A current state governor is introduced as “Governor Tom Smith,” while you’d introduce an ex-governor as “former Governor Jim Bell.” Source

Wikipedia informs us: "As of February 2014, there are four living former presidents" and it also tells us: The youngest living former president is Bill Clinton, born August 19, 1946

My belief is that Bill Clinton would be referred to as the "former President of the USA". As an honorific it is more dignified and respectful than First gentleman (which I find facetious); "Mr Bill Clinton" (he's not a nobody) or worse, The President's husband.

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The Clintons were an example. What about the general case? – Kit Z. Fox Feb 12 '14 at 19:24
May I comment you on your research and add my perspective as an American? Reporters are lazy, not always following the rules. (Those who follow the WH with regularity know the etiquette.) If Hilliary wins, I don't think any of us could stomach him being called the First Gentleman (not only because of his sexual indiscretions but his refusal to honorably leave office when impeached!). I think (but do not know) we will be hearing President Clinton and the former President or, for clarity's sake, I hope, President Clinton and Mr. Clinton at official functions. – medica Feb 12 '14 at 19:25
Your answer is missing the point of the question. The Clintons are only an example. They should rephrase it as "What if Kim Kardashian became president? Would Kanye be referred to as the 'First Gentleman'?" – Embattled Swag Feb 12 '14 at 19:44
@EmbattledSwag No, I didn't miss the point. The former President could be referred to as simply Mr William Clinton, as I mentioned in my answer. Likewise the husband of Sarah Palin, (if she were to ever ascend the throne) would be called "Mr Todd Palin". The question of his carrying the honour of president would not subsist. And correct me if I'm wrong, but the OP specifically asked about Bill Clinton, no doubt spurred by the years of controversy regarding his affair with Monica Lewinsky, did he act like a "gentleman" then?! – Mari-Lou A Feb 12 '14 at 21:29
The essence of the question is how we would refer to the husband of a female president, not specifically about Clinton. The Clintons were merely an example (though, it's pretty clear that they weren't the best example) just because Hillary probably has the best chance of any female to become president. – Embattled Swag Feb 12 '14 at 21:44

From a 2007 Washington Post blog entry by Peter Hauck:

In an appearance at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival on July 7, Bill Clinton is asked what he would like to be called if Hillary is elected. His response: "First Laddie." It appeared that he was kidding.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

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I guess that would depend on which reporter/news flunky is the first to blab about the thing on television, rather than anything else.
The situation has never come up before, so I seriously doubt there's an official document describing it (I'm not sure if there's anything that makes the title of "first lady" official, and how that one came about, research into that could lead to an answer for the reverse case).
Of course in the future if there's ever a homosexual couple in the white house, that would also need to be covered.

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Well, if the couple is lesbian, first lady would present no problems... and in the case of two men, the royal tradition of calling the spouse "queen" would fit. – oerkelens Feb 12 '14 at 10:25
@oerkelens I doubt the homosexual community would be happy with calling him "first drag queen"... – jwenting Feb 12 '14 at 10:33
Who knows how the connotations will have changed by the time this situation occurs... I don't dare to make any predictions :) – oerkelens Feb 12 '14 at 10:37

In one of the last seasons of 24 the president is a woman, and her husband is repeatedly reffered to as "The First Gentleman".

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protected by Kit Z. Fox Feb 12 '14 at 19:23

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