Baby Name of the Day: Jonathan

Jonathan’s 2006

Jonathan’s 2006; Image via Wikipedia

He sounds like an elaboration of the evergreen John, but this name has a history all his own.

Thanks to Clio for suggesting Jonathan as our Baby Name of the Day.

I’m sure I’ve read this on more than one message board: “I don’t really like John, but Jonathan is great.”

For generations, John was steadfast and constant, the #1 name for boys born in the US from 1880 through 1923, and a Top Ten staple through 1986. But the mighty, every-boy name has stumbled in recent years, falling to #26 in 2010.

While John was riding high, Jonathan usually stayed in the shadows. He’s charted every year, sure. But he first entered the Top 100 in 1962, and peaked at #15 in 1988. As of last year, Jonathan stands at #28. He’s no longer an also-ran – a gap of only about 400 separates the two.

Meanwhile, the related surname Jackson surpasses both, ranking #25. The same modern moms that dismiss John as too dull find names just a sound or two removed absolutely perfect.

Okay, yes. I hear you. Strictly speaking, John and Jonathan are not related. Instead:

  • John comes from the Hebrew Yochanan – Yahweh is gracious;
  • Jonathan comes from the equally Hebrew Yehonatan or Yonatan – Yahweh has given;
  • Nathan, Nathanael, and Nathaniel are, however, related to Jonathan through the element given.

As for famous bearers of the name:

  • Before you’d heard of the buddy film or bromance, Old Testament figures King David and Jonathan were famous friends. Jonathan was a warrior, known for his bravery and loyalty – and a tragic death;
  • Several other Biblical figures wore the name;
  • Jonathan surfaces with a handful of medieval rulers, around the time of the Crusades;
  • The original home of the London Stock Exchange was a coffee house called Jonathan’s, back in the late seventeenth century, named after founder Jonathan Miles;
  • The Protestants were known for really reviving Jonathan, and Colonial and early American era figures answer to the name, like Jonathan Trumbull, the only governor of a state before and after the American Revolution;
  • Trumbull headed up Connecticut – and the UConn Husky is called Jonathan in his honor. Here’s a trivia bit – Trumbull had a big family, including sons called Jonathan and John;
  • Before Uncle Sam, the personification of the US was Brother Jonathan – some link him to Trumbull but that’s probably not the case.

The first Jonathan I think of is Merlin Olsen’s character on Little House on the Prairie, farmer Jonathan Garvey. There’s also 1970 bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a novel about an ambitious bird who decides to fly higher. Still in print four decades later, the slim little volume probably put Jonathan on the radar of many a future parent.

Jonathan has plenty of short forms, from the obvious Jon or Jonny to:

  • Jack – Yes, he’s really a nickname for John, and John really has different roots than Jonathan, but no one is going to argue the point. Stargate franchise mainstay Jack O’Neill is actually Jonathan;
  • Jono – The cast of the X-Men includes London native Jonothon Starsmore. Even if you keep the conventional Jonathan spelling, Jono feels like a modern alternative, like Nico for Nicholas;
  • Jonty – A jaunty short form heard in the UK, but rare in the US;
  • Nat, Nate – The middle part of Jonathan lends itself to short forms, too.

Jonathan works well for parents who prefer conservative choices, but want something with a certain versatility. He’s a great way to honor a loved one called John, and in the middle spot, I find him far more interesting than many conventional choices. He’s popular these days, but somehow Jonathan still feels enduring and almost underused amongst boys’ classics.

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18 Comments

I love this name…my brother is Jonathan, and that may mean I am biased, but I have always loved it. It’s got an interesting flow and a unusual combination of letters/sounds which is very appealing. Aside from its popularity, it, like Jennifer, is really syntactically unique amongst its peers.

My associations with Jonathan are pretty diverse: 1. My cousin Jonathan, who is the black sheep of the family. 2. My childhood minister’s youngest son, a stereotypical preacher’s kid… Overly well behaved, responsible and well… boring. I believe he’s become a minister as well.

So either it’s a name for a hell-raiser or a diligent goody-goody. I don’t mind the name, but it’s not for me.

I like both Jonathan and John-I find them both appealling. There are several Johns in my family, so using Jonathan would be a nice way to honor them with using the same name. I think I rather like Jono and Jonty as nicknames.

Jonathan is ok – not really my style but I do prefer him over John. One of the baby daddies on Season 2 of 16 & Pregnant was a Jonathan who went by Jo (yup, that’s the spelling). My first thought is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, so I do like his literary vibe. Also, I agree with Charlotte, it’s nice that there are a few 3-syllable boys names in the Top 50 like Jonathan. All in all, for parents who want a familiar, Top 50, but still old-fashioned name, I think Jonathan is a good choice 🙂

I put both Jonathan and John in the same category: boring and way overused. I really don’t see the appeal. I like Nathaniel a bit better, but not Nathan. I guess it’s just not my naming style at all.

As a writer, I tend to think instantly of a trio of young, hip, bestselling New York writers — Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Safran Foer. For whatever reason, it seems that Jonathan is, and will continue to be, a go-to name of choice for parents with literary ambitions for their sons.

Because I have a Jonathan for a cousin, I don’t think I would ever use it personally. But it is a really nice name. It’s something to write in cursive on a cake…

I like Jonathan, I think in part because I tend to prefer more elaborate names to ones of a single syllable. Boys’ names tend to be sparer than girls’, so I think it’s pleasant to see a few longer boys’ names in the top 50. However, the abbreviation Jon makes me think of Garfield’s longsuffering owner: http://garfieldminusgarfield.net//

John seems more classic and less boring to me than Jonathan since there are so many in my age bracket. I like Nathaniel much more. I have no love for Nathan though. Funny how different the related names seem to me.

I have the same feelings about Nathaniel/Nathan. My BIL and SIL named their 2 month old Nathaniel and I was gutted to learn that they’re calling him Nathan. Apparently they like Nathan better but he was named for a relative on her side whose full name is Nathaniel.

I know a Jonathan who’s a musical fiend, he plays trombone, trumpet, clarinet, oboe, piano & flute. I’ve known him for 18 years (He was 16, I was 24). Really neat dude. But I prefer simple John. Strong, handsome and to the point. Jonathan seems a bit too elaborate a boys name for me, although I have no problem with it for others. Jonathan’s got a nice, swooshy sound and feels strong but give me sweet John.

I’ve liked Jonathan ever since I first watched Jonathan Creek, a clever detective show that was on the beeb a few years ago. I think he sits at a nice midway between the serious, old time choice of John and the rather more current Jackson.