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Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. (Wikimedia Commons) Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. (Wikimedia Commons)

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. (Wikimedia Commons)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 20, 2016

Did Hillary Clinton lie about being named after Sir Edmund Hillary?

Republicans hope to label Hillary Clinton as a dishonest person unworthy of the White House. At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached back about as far as one can go in Clinton’s biography for an example.

McConnell said that Clinton "lied about her emails, she lied about her server, she lied about Benghazi, she lied about sniper fire — why she even lied about why her parents named her Hillary."

Here, we’ll look at the last one: Would Hillary Clinton lie about the origins of her name?

The public discussion of the anecdote about Clinton’s naming dates back to her time as first lady.

In April 1995, she was on a goodwill tour of Asia and stopped in Nepal, the country that’s home of Mount Everest, which was first climbed in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal.

"At an airstrip in Katmandu, Nepal — just after an overnight tiger safari and just before her departure for this poverty-ridden pocket of South Asia — Mrs. Clinton shook hands with" the famous climber, then 75, the New York Times reported.

During the brief meeting, Clinton "confessed that her mother, Dorothy Rodham, had read an article about the intrepid Edmund Hillary, a one-time beekeeper who had taken to mountain climbing, when she was pregnant with her daughter in 1947 and liked the name," the Times wrote. " ‘It had two l's, which is how she thought she was supposed to spell Hillary,’ Mrs. Clinton told reporters after the brief meeting on the tarmac, minutes before her Air Force jet flew past the peak of Everest itself. ‘So when I was born, she called me Hillary, and she always told me it's because of Sir Edmund Hillary.’ "

For years, this story wasn’t widely discussed — it wasn’t mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s 2003 autobiography, Living History, for instance — but it did make its way into the autobiography of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, which was published in 2004.

Within a few years, though, the story attracted some attention on the Internet when someone realized a key discrepancy -- the mountain climber achieved worldwide fame six years after Clinton was born.

Eventually, in October 2006, a Clinton spokeswoman walked the story back.

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"It was a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter, to great results I might add,'' said spokeswoman Jennifer Hanley, according to the New York Times.

When the urban-legends checking site looked at the controversy, it noted that it actually wasn’t impossible that Clinton’s mother could have heard about Hillary by the time her daughter was born. It noted that he was already gaining some renown as a mountain climber prior to 1953, and even as early as the pre-World War II period.

Still, when Snopes scrutinized several major American newspapers, including the Rodhams’ hometown Chicago Tribune, prior to 1953, it couldn’t find any evidence that the mountain climber had been profiled. This suggests that he was still too obscure a figure to have attracted Dorothy Rodham’s attention.

It was "almost certainly a bit of fiction invented for political expediency," Snopes concluded.

We reached out to the Clinton campaign for this article but did not hear back.

Our ruling

McConnell said that Clinton "even lied about why her parents named her Hillary."

Clinton certainly said in 1995 that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, but Clinton was born a few years before the mountain climber became famous.

However, McConnell fails to note that a spokeswoman eventually said the story was told to her by Clinton’s mother to inspire her.

McConnell’s claim is partially accurate but lacks important context. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Mitch McConnell, remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016

New York Times, "Hillary Clinton Meets Man Who Gave Her 2 L's," April 3, 1995 (accessed via Nexis)

New York Times, "Hillary, Not as in the Mount Everest Guy," Oct. 17, 2006 (accessed via Nexis), "Hillary vs. Hillary," accessed July 19, 2016

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Did Hillary Clinton lie about being named after Sir Edmund Hillary?

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