The baby name Jonathan sounds like an elaboration of evergreen John. But there’s so much more to this story.
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.
Count me in on those who absolutely detest John, but don’t mind Jonathan.
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.
Lady Gwyn says
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.
Sarah A says
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…
Oh and I have a brother-in-law named Nathan, so that’s out too.
Charlotte Vera says
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.
Sarah A says
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.
Lou @ Mer de noms says
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.