Here’s one from the curiosity shop. Thanks to Sarah Winter for suggesting St. John as Name of the Day.
Plenty of parents choose saints’ names for their children. But St. John is that rare given name where the “saint” is preserved. It seems awkward – and it could be – but St. John is probably best thought of as a place name.
The name John was popular at the time of Christ. Two of Jesus’ best known followers were John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Thanks to their influence, John has remained a common name ever since. Both men are considered saints.
Consult an atlas, and you’ll find plenty of St. Johns on the map in the UK, US, Canada and the Caribbean. In France, it’s St. Jean. And that seems to be the origin of the earliest bearers of the name – Normans “de St. Jean” came to England avec William the Conqueror.
St. John has persisted as a surname. There are currently about 15,000 individuals surnamed St. John in the US. And, just like Carter and Jackson and Reese, some parents promoted St. John to the first spot.
That could still be a little awkward. But back in the day, the pronunciation of St. John was SIN gin. It’s a mash-up of Old English and French, weathered over the years into something that sounds like it could be a perfectly valid given name. (If you’re still scratching your head, consider that Sinclair evolved from St. Claire.)
The pronunciation inspired some parents to adopt a phonetic spelling for their sons. Sinjin is most common. You might stumble across a Sinjun or Sinjon, too.
Regardless of spelling, the name has never registered in the US Top 1000, but there are a few notable bearers, including:
- St. John Philby, a writer and explorer with an interest in ornithology (there’s a partridge named in his honor) and at least one foot in the spy game;
- St. John Smith, a former professional beach volleyball player who graduated from UCLA to an occasional gig as a commentator.
St. John seems most often used in fiction as a modest joke – to emphasize a character’s status as very British.
In Four Weddings and a Funeral, the priest butchers the groom’s name in Wedding Two:
Priest: why I, Bernard Godfrey SAINT JOHN Delaney …
Groom: why I, Bernard Geoffrey SINJIN Delaney ….
There’s also A View to a Kill, the 1985 James Bond adventure. When Bond goes undercover at a high end horse auction, he uses the alias James St. John Smith.
So St. John has a nicely posh flair. But that could change.
For the past few years, an indie horror flick has been in the works. The title? Sin-Jin. The plot involves a prisoner named Sin-Jin Smyth. The director didn’t seem to recognize the name’s roots – or pop culture reference to James Bond. Instead he landed on the name because it “sounds wicked.” Roddy Piper plays the prisoner. A Halloween 2009 release is planned.
While St. John seems like a quirky, historic choice, he might be best left in the middle spot – at least in the US.