Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Congressman who is challenging Ted Cruz for his Senate seat this fall, is a rising star in the Democratic Party. In the wake of a viral video in which he explained why it was important for football players to “take a knee,” the 45-year-old has pulled within one point of Cruz in a recent poll — a surprising development in that solidly Republican state that hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate since the early ’90s.
As his national profile rises in response, we’ll get to know more about O’Rourke. But one of the first questions people have is, where did he get his first name?
How did Beto O’Rourke get his name?
Beto O’Rourke was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. As his last name suggests, he is of Irish descent. His full name is Robert Francis O’Rourke. His father, Pat Francis O’Rourke, was an El Paso County judge.
In Spanish, “Beto” is a common nickname for Robert or Roberto, and O’Rourke acquired the nickname as a toddler. Because of its proximity to the Mexican border, El Paso has a large Hispanic population (75 percent, versus a 2 percent Irish population) and Mexican culture is ingrained in the city.
The Beto controversy
Beto being Beto was the source of a brief controversy last spring, when Cruz ran a campaign ad suggesting that O’Rourke was guilty of cultural appropriation and carpetbagging. The radio ad was a jingle that included the lyrics, “If you are going to run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal man. I remember reading stories, liberal Robert wanted to fit in. So he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin.”
O’Rourke’s campaign immediately tweeted a picture of Beto as a toddler, wearing a sweater with his nickname on the front.
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 7, 2018
“My parents have called me Beto from day one, and it’s just — it’s kind of a nickname for Robert in El Paso. It just stuck,” O’Rourke said on CNN. “I just don’t think that’s what folks in Texas want us to focus on. … We can focus on the small, mean, petty stuff or we can be big, bold, courageous, and confident.”