He conjures up images of whales, but there’s much more to this increasingly popular choice.
Thanks to Annelise for suggesting Jonah as Name of the Day.
My picture of Jonah is a devout soul, holding a candle inside the cavernous interior of a whale. It’s part Old Testament, part Finding Nemo.
It’s also flawed.
Jonah was a goat – a scapegoat, that is. When his ship was caught in a terrific storm, the sailors decided that lobbing one of their number overboard was the best course of action. Jonah drew the short straw.
Only he deserved it – Jonah had boarded the ship to flee a commandment from God, and the storm was a punishment. After his dunking and three days’ journey in the belly of something ocean-going, he agreed to fulfill God’s orders. (For a while, anyhow.)
There’s a raging etymological and even zoological debate about Jonah’s whale. Some translations tell us that a “giant fish” or even a “sea monster” did the swallowing.
As for his given name, it comes the Hebrew Yonah, meaning dove or pigeon. It became Ionas in Greek, later evolved to Jonas and eventually lost the -s sound again.
The menagerie aspect tempers what could otherwise be a heavily religious name. Jonah’s three days at sea are said to presage Jesus’ three days between death and resurrection.
The Biblical story has always been popular, but the name was once considered unlucky – and usually avoided. Sailors’ references to Davy Jones are thought to derive from the phrase “Devil Jonah.”
By the nineteenth century, Jonah had gained in use, but then faded. In 1970, he reentered the US Top 1000 at #960, then leapt to #650.
In 1992, he was still hovering in the 600s when Sleepless in Seattle hit the big screen. Jonah Baldwin was Tom Hanks’ matchmaking son in the movie. By 1993, the name had climbed to #469; two years after the film’s release, Jonah ranked #245.
He’s still climbing, fitting right in with current favorites Noah, Elijah and Isaiah.
A sampling of notable Jonahs includes:
- In the 2002 Veggie Tales version of Jonah’s story, the sailor is played by an asparagus;
- Comedic actor Jonah Hill is known for his roles in Knocked Up and Superbad;
- Jonah Tali Lomu of New Zealand is an International Rugby Hall of Fame member;
- DC Comics character Jonah Hex is a not-quite-hero cowboy-soldier adventurer. He debuted in the 1970s, and while he has never been well-known, a big screen adaptation of his story is slated for a 2010 release.
As of 2007, Jonah ranked #165. Besides his Biblical cred and silver screen ties, the letter J continues to dominate boys’ names, from the classic James to the trendy Jayden. It is easy to imagine Jonah following Noah straight to the Top Ten.