It brings to mind outlaws and athletes, but he’s impeccably Biblical, too.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Jesse as Name of the Day.
There’s Jesse James. Jesse Owens. Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard.
You probably know a few Jesses, too. He was in the US Top 100 from 1972 to 2005, peaking at #37 in 1981. By 2007, he’d fallen to #107, but that’s still more than 4,000 newborn Jesses – more than Oliver, Miles or Quinn.
While he sounds like a cowboy, he’s actually a Biblical figure. In Hebrew he’s Yishai, the Old Testament father of King David. This makes him an ancestor of Jesus, too. While there’s some debate about his meaning, “God exists” or “God’s gift” are the two most popular interpretations.
Like many an Old Testament appellation, Jesse was first used after the Protestant Reformation. Back in the 1700s, Jesse Ramsden designed scientific instruments in England, but most notable Jesses date to the nineteenth century or later.
Along with his brother Frank, Jesse James captured the public imagination as they robbed banks, trains and stagecoaches in the Wild American West late in nineteenth century. Even in his day, James was lauded as a modern day Robin Hood. Too bad it wasn’t true. (Remember the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby learns that James wasn’t hero material?)
In 1936, another Jesse became a bona fide hero when he won four gold medals in track and field at the Berlin Olympics. Born James Cleveland Owens, the African-American Jesse outran the Aryan athletes of Nazi Germany.
But Jesse’s popularity probably owes something to the television characters today’s parents watched in their childhoods.
There’s Jesse, uncle to Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke in Georgia’s fictional Hazzard County. He dispensed wisdom to the younger folks as they outwitted Boss Hogg and his henchmen from 1979 to 1985. A few years later, John Stamos played DJ, Stephanie and Michelle’s uncle Jesse on Full House.
- Pro wrestler turned politician Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota;
- Civil rights leader and presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, Sr.;
- His son, Jesse Jackson, Jr., a member of the US House of Representatives from Illinois;
- And, of course, Jesse Helms, the notoriously conservative North Carolina senator who spent six decades in office.
If you’re following this season’s Celebrity Apprentice, you’ll be watching one more Jesse – Jesse James of West Coast Choppers fame. He claims to be a descendant of the original bearer of the name.
With parents opting for newly minted cowboy handles like Cade and Gage, Colton and Chase, Jesse presents an appealing compromise. His history is undeniable, but he sounds right at home on a modern playground.
If there’s one objection to Jesse, it is his similarity to the feminine Jessie. (And yes, Jesse charted in the Top 1000 for girls from the 70s through the 90s.) But with Jessica falling out of favor, this is less of a concern.
Names like Corey and Cody have fallen out of fashion. It stands to reason that someday Chase and Cade will sound hopelessly dated, too. But Jesse should stand the test of time.