Thanks to Melissa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
LEADER of the ARGONAUTS
The origin of the name Jason is relatively straightforward.
The Greek word iaomai means “to heal.” And so the meaning of the name Jason – originally Iason – is healer.
We know him as more of a swaggering adventurer, though.
In Greek mythology, Jason was the son of Aeson, king of Iolcos. Jason’s uncle Pelias overthrew Aeson – and robbed Jason of his birthright.
As an infant, Jason was sent way to be raised by Chiron, a centaur renowned for his wisdom and skill at mentoring aspiring heroes. (If you’ve seen Disney’s version of Hercules, you’ve got the vibe.)
Years later, Jason challenged his uncle for the throne. To win back his kingdom, Jason had to go in search of the Golden Fleece.
What exactly was the Golden Fleece?
First up: it’s a symbol of royal authority, which is why Jason was sent after this object, specifically. But it’s also the pelt of a golden, winged ram previously sacrificed to the god Zeus and kept in a sacred grove.
Jason assembled a band of heroes to sail in his ship, the Argo.
The Argonauts succeeded in their quest, aided by the sorceress Medea. It’s Medea who also helped Jason return home and take revenge on his uncle, and restore Aeson to health.
But then Jason fell in love with another woman and jilted her.
So Medea burned it all to the ground and left town in a chariot pulled by dragons.
We count Jason among the list of heroes. But no one ever lives happily ever after in these tales.
Besides the hero, the ancient world gives us other figures by the name, a philosopher and a historian.
In the New Testament, Jason is a Greek Christian. He sheltered the apostle Paul in Thessalonica. He’s considered a saint.
It’s possible that the New Testament name wasn’t from the Greek, but a variant of the Hebrew name Yehoshua – Joshua. Or maybe Joshua and Jason were considered reasonably similar names, and used as a translation. Sounds crazy by today’s standards, but this was millennia before Google Translate.
In any case, the baby name Jason appealed to parents seeking new options, not strongly tied to saints, during the Protestant Reformation.
While it wasn’t especially popular, it entered into steady, sparing use, thanks to the Biblical figure.
TWENTIETH CENTURY RISE
The baby name Jason picked up in use during the twentieth century. Way back in the year 1900, it ranked just #663.
By 1950, it reached #467 – still fairly obscure.
But then it took off. The name entered the US Top 100 in 1966, the Top Ten in 1971, and ranked #2 from 1974 to 1978, behind only Michael.
What explains the rise?
- A 1963 movie version of Jason and the Argonauts tracks with an early rise in use.
- In 1965, soap opera Guiding Light introduced the world to Jason Weber. The character didn’t even last a year before dying tragically, but that’s more than enough to make expectant parents take note.
- Another television series, 1968’s Here Come the Brides, gave us Jason Bolt. Bolt owned a Seattle logging company, where lumberjacks were quitting because of a lack of potential wives in the Pacific Northwest in the 1860s. (It’s loosely based on a true story, though the historical figure was named Asa Mercer.)
- Wholesome small screen series The Waltons is among the best-known reasons the name caught on. The tale of a loving family in rural Virginia from the Depression years into World War II, was a ratings hit. Jason is the second eldest brother, behind John Jr., known as John-Boy. The show debuted in 1971, the same year Jason entered the Top Ten.
- Jason “Jay” Garrick is the first character known as DC Comics’ The Flash.
- Agatha Christie and William Faulkner both used the name for characters.
- American actor Jason Robards launched his career on the stage in the late 1940s, and went on to win Tony Awards, a Primetime Emmy, and an Academy Award.
The baby name Jason owes a little something to all of those influences.
The baby name Jason was already among the most popular names when the world met Jason Voorhees.
The first of eleven movies (and counting) in the Friday the Thirteenth franchise debuted in the year 1980.
If you’ve managed to miss the story, here’s a quick overview.
Camp Crystal Lake was the site of a tragedy: Jason, the young son of the camp cook, drowned. (Or so they thought.) He and his mama have been seeking revenge ever since.
In the third movie, he donned a hockey goalie mask and the rest is pop culture history.
So maybe that makes the baby name Jason a little bit of a Halloween name. But only a little bit. It was so well-established before the slasher flicks debuted that it couldn’t shift the name’s image – much.
A long list of actors have answered to the name, including Jason Alexander, Jason Bateman, Jason Biggs, Jason Momoa, and Jason Statham.
Singers Jason Mraz and Jason Aldean are two more bearers of the name.
Athletes are too many to count, including basketball’s Jason Kidd, have all answered to the popular name.
Fiction gives us countless more, particularly Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon in a series of movies. Dozens more include Christian Slater’s Jason Dean – J.D. – in Heathers.
Author Rick Riordan brought a version of the mythological Jason to a new audience in his Heroes of Olympus series.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Jason set the stage for an entire generation of names: Mason, of course, but also Jayden (and Jaden and all the other spellings, too.)
Nicknames like Jay and Jaye saw some use, but it was Jace – Jason meets Chase – that most clearly followed.
And then there’s Jayceon, the given name of rapper and reality star Jayceon Terrell Taylor, better known as the Game. While some might pronounce this name jay-suhn, most add an extra syllable: jay-see-ahn.
Combined, it’s difficult to gauge the true popularity of this name.
- Jason stands at #145 as of 2022.
- Jayson ranks #549 and Jayceon #557.
- At #103, Jace is more popular than the original. Jase nad Jayce are heard, too, but remain less common.
It’s been among the most popular names elsewhere in the English-speaking world, including Canada and Australia, in the same era.
The baby name Jason has topped baby names lists for so many decades that it now feels like a modern traditional. It’s hard to imagine what names would sound like today without the impact of this ancient name, freshly discovered in the twentieth century and now transformed into a staple.
Would you consider the baby name Jason?
This post was originally published on October 27, 2008. It was revised on October 29, 2012 and again on October 26, 2023.