He’s among the most enduring of the classics, one of the few boys’ names to never leave the US Top 25.
Thanks to KO for suggesting Joseph as our Baby Name of the Day.
Joe’s strength is his weakness. He’s versatile and evergreen, a name worn by athletes, actors, and academics, politicians and preachers, over the course of human history. Maybe that’s why Joe is also an everyman name – he’s not quite John Doe, but he is a Regular Joe, and more recently, Joe Six-Pack. They’re not, strictly speaking, unflattering, especially in the US. Joe sounds capable, whether he’s an accountant or a plumber.
Like many of the classics, he’s on a slight decline. But that has more to do with parents’ willingness to consider a broader range of names than any real lacking on the part of Joseph.
The Hebrew name’s meaning is usually given as “God will add.” It feels lucky, and many a Joseph has been blessed with good fortune.
It’s impossible to mention every notable who has answered to the name, but we have to start with the Old Testament. He’s Jacob’s son, son number eleven, but a particular favorite. His jealous brothers hoodwinked him to leaving town for Egypt, where Joseph prospered. It ends happily – the brothers eventually join him in Egypt, and all are reconciled.
In the New Testament, there’s Joseph, foster father to Jesus, and also Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy man who donated his own tomb for Jesus. Legend makes him the first keeper of the Holy Grail. Some suggest that he might be the same figure as Titus Flavius Josephus, a first century historian.
Joseph had a good run in the Middle Ages, mostly with Jewish families in the English-speaking world. Post-Reformation, he became popular with Christian families, too. Like many a Biblical favorite, Joseph is widely translated. In 1690, Joseph I became Holy Roman Emperor, and ruled Hungary as József. José I ruled Portugal in the 1700s. In the nineteenth century, Giuseppe Verdi composed some of the world’s most admired operas.
By the twentieth century, he was a staple. Plenty of immigrants shed their given names to become Joe. From action hero G.I. Joe to the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio to quarterback Joe Montana to literary figures like Joseph Conrad and Joseph Heller, it is impossible to pigeonhole Joe.
A Top Ten choice from 1880 through 1935, with periodic appearances in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and from 1999 through 2005, you probably know a Joseph, or have a Joseph or three on your family tree.
How does Joseph wear today?
He’s a safe middle name choice to pair with a daring first: the Beckhams have Brooklyn Joseph and Sharon Stone has Roan Joseph.
And if Joe doesn’t suit, there’s at least one other nickname option: filmmaker Joss Whedon is also a Joseph.
Maybe it is the story of Joseph and Mary, but Joseph also feels capable and humble, a solid name. While scoundrels have answered to Joe, he sounds like a good guy.
If you’re after a versatile classic, rich in history and tradition, it is hard to find a better choice than Joseph.