John: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on October 4, 2012

St. John's, Newfoundland and The Basilica of S...

St. John’s, Newfoundland and The Basilica of St. John the Baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where to even begin?

He’s the most enduring of boys’ names, worn by saints, kings, philosophers, scientists, artists, athletes, and accomplished men from every field of endeavor.

Thanks to KO for suggesting John as our Baby Name of the Day.

WayneLennon.  F. Kennedy.  SteinbeckPaul II.  Even if you stick strictly to the twentieth century, there are too many world-changing Johns to list.

He’s been around forever.  The original Hebrew name was Yochanan or Yehanan, meaning “God is gracious” – an auspicious meaning.  Two New Testament figures made the name a powerhouse.  John the Baptist is considered a prophet in Christianity and Islam; among other feats, he is responsible for baptizing Jesus himself.  He met his death at the hands of King Herod.  John criticized Herod’s incestuous marriage; Herod had John beheaded.  He’s been a martyr and important saint ever since.

The second John was the brother of James, and the only apostle to live a long life – which is why he’s the one credited with penning so many books of the New Testament.

While this is a vast oversimplification, his evolution looks something like this:

  • In Biblical Greek, Yochanan became Ioannes.
  • He picked up an h in Latin – Iohannes.
  • Iohannes gave rise to many forms as Latin names were adapted to fit the vernacular.
  • Jehan was the medieval French, and was also heard in English.
  • Jehan, like so many names, probably came to England with the Norman invaders.
  • The I-to-J switch wasn’t instant, and forms like Iohn and Iohne are recorded in medieval English, but as with James, the tide was turning towards J.
  • Another common medieval English form of Iohannes was Hann or Han.  Shades of the German Hans, though the first thing I think of is Han Solo.

But somehow, instead of Hann, Jehan and Iohn mellowed into John.  And John caught on – eventually.

Giovanni was solidly established in Italy much earlier, contributing to the nearly two dozen popes named John from the sixth century onwards.  He wasn’t a big hit in English until later in the game.  The future King John of England was probably called Johan at court – Anglo-Norman French was the language of the court, and John’s mom was Eleanor of Aquitaine.

By the sixteenth century, as many as 1 in 5 men answered to John.  Fifteen of the Mayflower passengers were John.  He was the #1 name when the US statistics were first compiled in 1880, and he still held the top spot in 1923.  John was a stand-in name for centuries, transitioning from John-a-Noakes to John Doe over the years.

John stayed in the Top Ten through the 1980s, though he slid from #1 to #5 to #9 over the years.  As of 2011, he hit #27 – still wildly common, but for John, surprisingly uncommon.  Jackson actually outranks John nowadays in the US, and he’s long since been eclipsed by Jack in the UK.

All of this makes John an unassailable classic, and yet, something of an opportunity, too.  While no one would ever think of John as unusual, a boy named John today is less likely to share his name than James or William – at least not with kids his own age.   And since John’s slide is slow but steady, he might feel rarer still – the masculine equivalent of Mary, evergreen but no longer everywhere.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Colleen October 6, 2012 at 7:33 AM

A John who goes by Johnny is a fantastic thing. A child with this name sounds sweet and adorable. A young man with this name sounds handsome and romantic. A grandfather with this name sounds kindly and generous. You just can’t fail with this one.

I have a young relative who is a Johnny and is as cute as his name would suggest. It suits him perfectly but it pulls it off the list for us.

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British American October 6, 2012 at 2:54 AM

I think it was in 2009 when I was noticing toddler names locally and there were 4 Johns I knew, making it the most popular name. One went by Johnny. Another was Johnathan-Paul. Another shared his name with his father – though I think the father may have been Johnathan and then the son was ‘just’ John. The 4th one may also be Johnathan. He goes by JohnJohn.

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K October 5, 2012 at 1:57 AM

My husband is a “Jonathan”
and he consistently gets “Johnathan” or “Jonathon”
instead. He also has never gone by the nickname “Jon/John”. He only introduces himself by his full name and only very few people call him
“Jon”. In my mind, Jonathan and John are two separate names. But nothing ever guarantees a misspelling or a wrong assumption about a name!

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Eva October 5, 2012 at 1:31 AM

John the Baptist criticized Herod’s marriage, not because it was an incestous marriage, but actually because Herod married his brother’s wife, Herodius. (Herodius divorced her husband for his brother, Herod). Herodius wanted John executed even though Herod didn’t…..long story short, John was beheaded to please Herodius!

I don’t like the name John at all, actually. But LOVE Jonathan!

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Lola October 5, 2012 at 12:07 AM

I love John (It’s my OH’s second middle). In answer to the above discussion: John Gilbert McCain sounds wonderful. I wouldn’t worry about John McCain one whit. It’s so common a pairing he won’t have to worry about a dead politician when he’s grown. And you can always differentiate yours as J.G. McCain!
For the record, I know a six year old S@m@nth@ St#v#ns, like the tv witch and it doesn’t bother her any!

John figures prominently in our boys combos as that final one syllable name we like in the second middle spot. He’s lovely. If I didn’t aleady have a Josie, I could easily see myself with a Johnny!

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Jordanna October 4, 2012 at 10:24 PM

I like John. I was going to be a John, actually, if I had been a boy. John Moses, apparently, which is certainly a name. :D

But I really love Jonathan, NN Jon. My sister tells me “everyone will spell the nickname John and you’ll be lucky if they don’t spell the full name Johnathan.” And that idea… sorta curdles my blood, even though I like John and Jonathan seperately, you can’t cross the streams!

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Analisa October 4, 2012 at 6:32 PM

My husband and I are expecting our first baby; a boy due in December. :)

The baby’s middle name will be “Gilbert”, after my dad, and we both love the name “John” for many reasons. (I’m Hispanic and my husband is caucasian and the name “John” exists in both English and Spanish; we’re Catholic, so we like that it’s a biblical name; and we like the meaning of the name.)

However, our last name is McCain.

Do you think this is a problem? Or is it “tacky”? We’ve considered so many other names, but we truly can’t find another name that we like that also fits all of our criteria.

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appellationmountain October 4, 2012 at 6:48 PM

Wow. John Gilbert is fabulous.

But John McCain? Hmmm …

On the one hand, John McCain will probably be a footnote by the time your kiddo hits high school and is aware of world events. WhitePages.com says there are 267 men answering to John McCain in the US now. 266 of them probably get a certain amount of flack over their names … but then, I’m assuming they were adults during the last presidential election.

If it were me, I’d find another name. But let me ask you this: would you be bothered by the association? McCain has many admirers, and if you’re among them, that probably lessens the problem somewhat. I don’t think it is tacky at all – John is such a classic and McCain is a relatively common surname. And you could name your son Daniel McCain instead, only to have a completely unrelated politician or athlete or what-have-you emerge. So …

It is a risk, and it isn’t for me, but I’m not strongly opposed to the idea for someone else. What do others think?

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Kristine October 5, 2012 at 9:22 PM

Have you thought about nicknames? You can always call him Johnny or Jack, which would separate him from the association with the politician. Or Jonathon, nn Jon so that it’s a slightly different spelling. I’m sure you have considered these options, but just in case!

If you do have your heart set on John, I think it would be fine in the long run, but you might have to deal with some people in the next few years who ask, “Like the guy who ran for president?”

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Sarah October 7, 2012 at 10:29 PM

I have several friends where one spouse is Hispanic and the other spouse is Caucasian. They’ve named their kids Victor, Aaron and Daniel.

Or how about Joel, Elias or David?

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Julie October 4, 2012 at 6:13 PM

In my circle there’s only one John under 30, but I know literally dozens of Jacksons, Jonathans, Jacks and Jakes… making John feel like the freshest of the bunch. I find the simple, timeless of John rather charming.

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Megalady October 4, 2012 at 1:54 PM

I quite like John. So many good associations: Milton, Cash, Tolkien, Master Chief, etc. The nickname Jack makes it more wearable with even more good associations, especially White, Johnson, and London for me. And that’s what puts him on my list.

Great post.

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The Name Station October 4, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Great post, love the evolution of John! I don’t dislike the name, but I’d say it’s probably too basic for my tastes. I did also date a John/”Johnny,” which pretty much rips this one off the table. I wonder if it’s still around so strongly because of family connections, or if modern parents are truly drawn to it. I’ve noticed it slipping in first-name use, too.

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Kristin October 4, 2012 at 9:52 AM

The first things I think of when hearing/seeing John are Esther Smith’s love interest in Meet Me in St. Louis, Laurie’s tutor and Meg’s eventual husband in Little Women, Wendy’s younger brother in Peter Pan, and Little John of Robin Hood legend. I’ve known a few older men called Johnny, but none that have gone by John. To me, John seems terribly romantic. A Civil War or Victorian Era gentleman. I’d be thrilled to meet a little John. John Jacob with the nickname Jack was a combo I suggested with my first pregnancy. I still love it, but all the husband could think of was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. :/

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SkyeRhyly October 4, 2012 at 4:30 AM

I much prefer Giovanni, feels fresher and more appropriate for today. John to me still feels overused and way too much of a dad/grandpa name. It needs to go away for a long time for it to feel fresh again (if it ever will be again).

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Via October 4, 2012 at 3:22 AM

John is #77 where I live, its a lovely name and as you said a nice opportuinity now. I love the idea of nicknaming him Johnny.

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