English: Statue of Joseph of Arimathea in Bom ...
English: Statue of Joseph of Arimathea in Bom Jesus, Braga, Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 JózsefJosé 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.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. As a Joe who just completed thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail yesterday, this post makes me extremely happy. Big thanks to Angela for making me aware of it.

    1. There are lots of getting to Joe names… Jonah, Johan, Jonas, Josiah, Joel, Joah, Joachim, George. I know a Joshua who goes by Joe, so I would think just about any Jo– name could easily become Joe.

  2. My brother Josef somehow acquired the nickname Jooj (difficult to explain the pronunciation without using the International Phonetic Alphabet… It’s like the j from “juice”, the vowel from “could”, and the ending from “fudge”).

  3. I meant to add, being an Aussie, that in Australia a “joey” is an endearing term for a baby kangaroo.

  4. I like it. I’m a Josie (Hebrew name Yosefa) though, so it’d be unusable for me. And honestly, I have so many relatives named Joseph that I really favour Joel and Josiah just for still having a Joe Everyman NN option and solid, real Biblical ties, without being yet-another-Joseph.

    Joel and Josiah, though, don’t have the mainstream timelessness.

  5. Like Lola’s family Joseph is one of “our” family names too. There is probably one Joseph in every generation for centuries, so it was no surprise when my nephew was named Joseph Richard. I would have probably picked Josiah or Jonah, but you can’t go wrong with such a solid, classic name.

    One of the more interesting things about the name is how many companies/places have Joe or Joseph in their names: Trader’s Joe, Wine by Joe, Saint Joseph University, etc. Not so great if you’re looking for a unique name for you store… but if you’re a little kid, you’ll find lots of swag with your name printed on it. 😉