On this day in history: The Attack on Pearl Harbor.

The names for the wars we fight are not usually official until after we’re done fighting them, but in the case of World War II, But in 1942, Franklin Roosevelt was determined to give it an official name for the purposes of documentation, suggesting that it be called “The Survival War” in press conferences and speeches (here’s one instance).

He got the War Department to send out a public call for suggestions and even Gallup (then the “American Institute of Public Opinion”) conducted a poll.

When asked what names the people like best amongst those suggested, here’s how they responded:

War of World Freedom: 26%
War of Freedom: 14%
War of Liberty: 13%
Anti-Dictator War: 11%
War for Humanity: 9%
Survival War: 7%
The People’s War: 6%
Anti-Nazi War: 5%
Total War: 5%
War of Liberation: 4%

By the time we were well into the war, the common term for it had just naturally become “World War II” or the “Second World War,” as the term had existed ever since the end of the World War I (they would use the phrase “World War II” in much the same way we use “World War III” today as a prediction of worse things to come), and in 1945, President Harry S. Truman would make the name official:

10 September 1945

The President
The White House

Dear Mr. President: President Wilson, under date of July 31, 1919, addressed a letter to Secretary of War Baker which read, in part, as follows:

“It is hard to find a satisfactory ‘official’ name for the war but the best, I think, that has been suggested is ‘The World War,’ and I hope that your judgment will concur.”

Subsequently, under date of October 7, 1919, War Department General Orders No. 115 directed:

“The war against the Central Powers of Europe, in which the United States has taken part, will hereafter be designated in all official communications and publications as ‘The World War.'”

As a matter of simplicity and to insure uniform terminology, it is recommended that “World War II” be the officially designated name for the present war covering all theaters and the entire period of hostilities.

The term “World War II” has been used in at least seven public laws to designate this period of hostilities. Analysis of publications and radio programs indicates that this term has been accepted by common usage.

If this recommendation is approved it is further recommended that the title “World War II” be published in the Federal Register as the official name of the present war.

Respectfully yours,
Secretary of War

Secretary of the Navy.

Approved: September 11, 1945

As someone who’s worked a lot in advertising and branding, I can relate.