Elijah and Isaiah are Top 100 choices, and they help make other Old Testament names sound wearable. But is this name of a King of Judah too much of a leap?
Thanks to Claire for suggesting Jehosaphat as our Baby Name of the Day.
The phrase Jumpin’ Jehosaphat could have a spiritual origin.
Jehosaphat was King of Judah in the ninth century B.C., at a time of relative peace and prosperity, according to the Old Testament. Late in his reign, the neighboring Moabites assembled a huge army and marched on Judah. With numbers vastly greater than their own, Jehosaphat gathered his leaders for prayer. It must’ve worked – dissension kept the Moabites from successfully launching their invasion.
Some say that “jumpin’ Jehosaphat” means that the faithful should throw themselves – jump – into God’s mercy at times of trouble.
Jehosophat does come from the Hebrew “Yahweh has judged.” And the Valley of Josaphat, which is mentioned briefly in the Bible, is interpreted by some as the place God will assemble everyone on judgment day.
Still, it’s a stretch. Odds are that Jumpin’ Jehosaphat is just one of those quirky mild swears from the nineteenth century.
The colorful phrase first surfaces in the mid-nineteenth century in the US, a moment that was prime for lots of colorful colloquialisms. The phrase appears in Mayne Reid’s 1865 novel The Headless Horseman: A Strange Tale of Texas. Reid’s tale appeared a few decades after Washington Irving’s account of a headless rider in New England. The folk tales are common. Irish legend gives us a headless faerie atop a dark horse; there’s also Sir Gawain and his decapitated Green Knight. Jehosaphat has no tie to these stories, and it appears the phrase was simply a common one that Reid included, rather than invented.
Jehosaphat, also spelled Jehoshaphat, has always been rare. And yet there have also been some fascinating uses:
- Siddharta Gautama founded Buddhism, but there’s also a version of his story, popular in medieval England, that presents him as a Christian saint called Josaphat;
- Giosafat Barbaro was a fifteenth century Venetian merchant and travel writer;
- Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych was martyred at the hands of a mob in seventeenth century Vitebsk, part of modern Belarus;
- The early twentieth century Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska gives us a rare example of the feminine form, inspired by the martyr mentioned above;
- While he’s typically known as J-J Gagnier, the Montreal-born composer and musician Jean-Josaphat Gagnier wears the name, too;
- Politics gives us Josephat Benoit, the long-standing mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s;
- There’s also Josaphat Celestin, a prominent Haitian-American politician, the mayor of North Miami, Florida in the early 2000s.
It is an eclectic, even an inconsistent bunch. And none of it changes the fact that Jehosaphat is an awful lot of name for a child born in 2011. Then again, so are Nehemiah, Emmanuel, Ezekiel, and plenty of other names that we’ve given our children. Jehosaphat, in any of his possible spellings, offers the easy nickname Joe, making him at least as wearable as many a long appellation.
Now that so many great Old Testament choices are common, some parents might just be willing to give Jehosaphat a look.