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.