Thanks to Clio for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
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 into the 1980s. But the mighty, every-boy name has stumbled in recent years, falling to #27 in 2020.
While John was riding high, Jonathan usually stayed in the shadows.
Not too far behind, though.
The baby name Jonathan has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since the data was first reported in 1880.
JOHN, JONATHAN, NATHAN, NATHANIEL
As it happens, John and Jonathan are not related.
John comes from the Hebrew Yochanan – Yahweh is gracious.
Meanwhile, the baby name Jonathan comes from the equally Hebrew Yehonatan or Yonatan – Yahweh has given.
Nathan, Nathanael, and Nathaniel are, however, related to Jonathan through the element natan – to give.
OLD TESTAMENT to the MIDDLE AGES
In the Old Testament, Jonathan was the name of a warrior. He’s remembered as a true and loyal friend to King David, known for his bravery, and his tragic death.
Other Biblical figures answered to the name, too.
It continued in use, and the name appears in medieval Europe.
LONDON, DUBLIN, and the NEW WORLD
The baby name Jonathan features in some interesting parts of history.
The original home of the informal London Stock Exchange was a coffee house called Jonathan’s, back in the late seventeenth century, named after founder Jonathan Miles. The building itself was destroyed by fire in 1748. By 1801, the London Stock Exchange was officially established.
Author Jonathan Swift would become one of the best known satirists of his age. Gulliver’s Travels might be his best known work, published in 1726. Swift lived in Dublin, serving as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Across the Atlantic, several notables answered to the name.
Jonathan Trumbull served as governor of Connecticut during the American Revolution. Trumbull was the only governor to side with the Patriots, and went on to advise George Washington. Trumbull also committed troops and money whenever possible to support the Revolution.
Washington referred to Trumbull as “Brother Jonathan.”
Before we had Uncle Sam, the personification of the US was Brother Jonathan. It may be linked to Washington’s affectionate nickname for his friend … or not.
Also during the eighteenth century, pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards became a significant figure in American religious history. He also served as the third president of Princeton University.
LITTLE HOUSE and HIGH FLYING BIRD
Little House on the Prairie gave us a character named Jonathan Garvey, a friend, fellow farmer, and sometimes business partner for Charles Ingalls. Merlin Olsen played the character.
There’s also 1970 bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a novel about an ambitious bird who decides to fly higher. Still in print decades later, the slim little volume probably put the baby name Jonathan on the radar of many a future parent.
BY the NUMBERS
Not only has the baby name Jonathan always ranked in the US Top 1000, it’s appeared in the Top 1000 every year since 1962.
The name peaked at #15 in 1988. As of 2020, the baby name Jonathan fell to a relatively uncommon #70.
But that’s still not obscure. Instead, Jonathan has appeared across decades, centuries, even millennia.
NICKNAMES for JONATHAN
The baby name Jonathan offers more flexibility than some traditional names.
Besides to obvious Jon and Jonny, there’s also:
- Jonty, rare in the US but heard in the UK
- Nate, borrowed from the middle syllable
Current bearers of the name continue to put Jonathan in the spotlight. Author Jonathan Franzen and actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers come to mind. But they’re really just two more in a long line of accomplished bearers.
It’s easy to overlook this name, since John is so common. But the baby name Jonathan clearly qualifies as a steady classic.
What do you think of the baby name Jonathan?
First published on August 1, 2011, this post was revised substantially and republished on December 29, 2021.