Great Jumpin' Jehosaphat!
Image by tim ellis via Flickr

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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Look I’m not one of those parents who can’t bear to think of her precious little poppet being teased with “Nosy Rosy Hat Like a Teacosy” or something …

    but this name has both HO and FAT in it. That’s too much, even for me.

    You know he’ going to wind up being called Joe or Joey, so just make that his name. Please!

  2. I love Nehemiah, Emmanuel, Ezekiel, but I’ll leave Jehoshaphat back with Methusael and Festus in the pet’s only category.

    On the other hand… I think Asa, Jehoshaphat’s father, is a real possibility.

  3. I like the Spanish version, Josafat, only when it’s pronounced in Spanish. Still, it’s great to see such a wide variety of names featured.

  4. Wow, a little much for me, even though I do like obscure Biblical names. One of the first words kids learn how to spell is their names, and any boy with this moniker would have a realllyyy hard time with that. Also, it looks a lot like a made up jumble of letters, even if has a legitimate history.

  5. This post made me smile because Jehosaphat is a name we sometimes call my younger brother who is named Joshua. When he was really young, he had some issues with his speech, and when he introduced himself to an older lady, she misheard his name as Jehosaphat. It made us laugh so much that we kept it for limited use in our family. I don’t think I could ever name a child that, but it’s cute as a silly nickname.

  6. I don’t think this name is usable either. Honestly I could only see a family like the Duggars using this name and that’s only if they completely ran out of J names.

  7. Some names from other languages just don’t work in English! A lot of biblical names fall into that category, but because of the cultural significance of the bible, rather too many of these ugly, chunky, lumbering names have seen use in the English speaking world across the years, this one among them — but mostly only by 17th and 18th Century Puritans! Today, I’d say it’s a great name for a pet (perfect for a large, fat Maine Coon, perhaps!) but not for a child.

    1. Hear, hear! Good idea — use these sorts of names for pets and leave the really usable baby names (Max, Sadie, etc., etc. ) for (human) babies!