It doesn’t get much more classic than John. But I’ve said it before – John is so very classic that he strikes many parents as plain.

Thanks to Cat for suggesting a twist on that old favorite. Today’s Name of the Day is Johann.

Ivan leans Slavic and Ewan screams Scottish. Johann is German, and plenty of famous bearers come to mind:

  • The 15th century Johann Gutenberg – often listed as Johannes. Gutenberg invented movable type, revolutionizing the printing press – and through it, the world;
  • Composer Johann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the masters of the Baroque period;
  • Three Austrian composers – father, son and grandson – were named Johann Strauss. They all went into the family business – composing and conducting waltzes;
  • Johann Pachelbel was another composer from the Baroque period, this time remembered for his Canon in D. You might remember the piece if only because GE used it for a long-running light bulb commercial in the 1990s;
  • Johann Goethe studied law, fell in love with poetry and is remembered for early Romantic period novels and dramas.

Add in a handful of lesser known composers, a few distinguished artists and architects, priests, scientists and philosophers and Johann emerges as a common name for men of uncommon talent. It was also worn by many German princes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Speaking of royalty, 21st century American reality TV has included a Johan – Alex McCord’s blonde, French-speaking tot on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. (His big brother is Francois.)

The single -n spelling is more common in Scandinavia, where Johan ranks in the Top 100 of both Sweden and Norway.

There’s also Johann Kraus, comic book ally of Hellboy. And the cartoon Tom and Jerry included a waltz-centric episode titled Johann Mouse. So it isn’t all high-minded types wearing this one.

Whether you’re considering Johann, Ivan or Ewan, all roads lead back to John. John comes from the Hebrew Yochanan, meaning God is gracious. The name was common in the early Christian era; famous bearers like John the Baptist and John the Apostle ensured that it remained so.

The name was translated early and often. Look at the Greek – Ioannes – or Latin – Iohannes – and most of the foreign variants start to make sense.

Hans and Hansel both emerged as nicknames for Johann. While Hans has since been established as an independent name – much like Jack for English speakers – Hansel is confined to fairy tales and Ben Stiller movies.

The biggest barrier to Johann’s use is probably his sound. While J reigns supreme for boys’ names – in the US, 7 out of our Top 25 in 2007 started with J! – Johann’s J sounds like a Y – Yo hahn.
Some parents probably find Johann just a bit too unusual. But more and more are discovering his charm. While Johann has never ranked in the US Top 1000, Johan has ranked since 1998. In 2007, he’d climbed to #498 – far from common, but not quite rare.
Johann just might strike that right balance between classic and quirky, traditional and cool.

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. I find myself liking Johann a lot lately. I saw someone on babycenter asking about Johann as a possible middle name for either Frederick or Theodore which I thought was interesting.

    I think I like the sound of Frederick Johann better than Theodore Johann. Either way it was nice to see someone in the U.S. considering it.

  2. It’s a dime a dozen by me. I’ve come across SO SO SO many , that is just has no appeal. I always get annoyed (as silly as it is) when people pronounce it as YO-HAN.

    I have more than enough ancestry (think relevant like now) to use it, but I’d never use it. It’s a matter of familiarity breeds contempt.However, in another place in the world it could be a fresh change.

    1. Not sure why it would annoy you when people pronounce it Yo Han. I am pretty sure that in most languages it is pronounced that way. Is your issue with the yo or the han? If Johan is a dime a dozen name you must not live in the U.S right?

  3. We named our new son Johan. My husband’s family is of German descent and we have a German surname. We have had lots of people who just read the name (in doctor’s offices mostly) who aren’t sure what to make of it. They usually end up calling out for Joanne, Jonah, Jonas or Johan with a “j” and a long “a” sound. Lots of people in our community love the name when we tell them but we also live in a college town where the populace is well educated and thus makes the connections quite easily to famous composers, novelists, kings, etc. We affectionately nicknamed him Yo-Yo. I wouldn’t name your son Johan if people reading the name and getting it wrong would be stressful or bothersome to you. To us, it’s no big deal we politely correct them and move on. We love the heritage with the name but also feel is has a modern, unique, strong and manly feel. No name regrets here!

  4. I prefer Ivan or simply John but rather like Johann too. He’s kind of spiffy. 🙂 I love his namesakes, Gutenberg, Pachebel, Strauss & Goethe (it’s funny, I have a GF with the last name Guerth which my brain always links with Goethe).

    I’ve known a small handful of Johan/Johann’s too, One and all, straightforward sort of guys. Very nice. I’ve come to associate Johann with the traits of kind, curteous, handsome and sweet, if that’s anything to anyone. I really do like Johann, even if I’m not inclined to use him myself (I’ve got the right sort of ethnic mix to use a German name, but not the right surname), but I would be completely charmed to meet one (or more)!