We all have different approaches to baby naming. Some parents will go to great lengths to come up with a name that nobody else has. Others prefer to stick with the tried and true, using old names from their family’s history.
You can’t get more ‘tried and true’ than going with probably the most common name in English-speaking history – John. During the Middle Ages, it was estimated that one-fifth of all the boys born in England were named John.
John is so popular that when we want to refer to any generic man whose name we don’t know, the unknown name we use is John Doe.
Like many other classic names that have been around for a long time, there are a few nicknames for John that became almost as well-known as the original.
History of the Name
The name John has a rich history. It’s derived from a Hebrew name, Yochanan, that means “Yahweh is gracious”, which gets translated in to Greek as Iohannes, from which we get John.
The name’s popularity comes from two characters in the Bible’s New Testament, John the Baptist and John, one of the twelve apostles. After the First Crusade, the name exploded in popularity throughout Europe.
There’s a version of John in just about every language, many of them – including the Italian Giovanni, the Spanish Juan, the Scottish Ian, the Irish Sean, the Welsh Evan – which have become extremely popular in the United States in their own right.
Like I mentioned above, John has been massively popular throughout the English speaking world for several hundred years. When the United States began tracking the popularity of names through the Social Security Administration, John was the number one name until 1924, when it fell to number two.
Although it has never regained its status as the number one baby name, it has never really fallen out of fashion, either. It wasn’t until 1987 that it finally slipped out of the top ten.
For the last ten years, John has been hanging out somewhere in the bottom of the top thirty names. In an age when parents have more names to choose from than ever before, that’s some pretty impressive staying power! To this day, John is the most common name found in the United States, given to an estimated 4% of the population of the country.
With all of those Johns, it’s inevitable that sometimes nicknames will start being used to differentiate one John from another, sometimes in the same family.
Unlike a longer name like William or Robert that might get shortened to the first syllable, John is short and simple, so a nickname is more likely to be a slightly longer version of the name. Johnny is the most common diminutive of the name used, and actually has ranked on the SSA name list as a separate entry of its own every year since the list began.
America’s Most Popular Name
In the Middle Ages, a popular way to get a nickname was to add the suffix –kin on to a name. Think of surnames like Perkins, Wilkins, or Tompkins – all originally nicknames for Peter, William, and Thomas.
Following the same formula, Jankin became a nickname for John. This evolved in to Jackin, and from there we get Jack.
Jack is enjoying a huge surge of popularity right now. Relatively common on its own (like Johnny, it has also had its own SSA ranking every year the list has been published), its popularity is being supported by the huge popularity of the name Jackson.
Jackson on its own ranks only #20 on the list, but that doesn’t take into account the number of creative spellings American parents have come up with. Jaxon, Jaxxon, Jaxson, Jaxen, Jaxsen, Jaxsyn...the combinations are almost endless, but if you combine all of those spellings together, you get the number one name in the US.
Still, there is a lot of appeal to be found in Jack. It is simple, yet lively, and is as easy to picture on a child as it is on a teenager, a professional, or an old man.
One comment I’ve seen many expectant parents make is that they like Jack, but feel that it’s too much of a nickname, and so go with Jackson as a full name. If used as a nickname for John, you can avoid using the number one name in America and arrive at the appealing nickname Jack while still keeping John in case your son wants to go by his full name professionally as an adult.
When a name stays this popular for as long as it has, you know it’s a good one. John isn’t going anywhere. Using the currently popular Jack as a nickname for John is a good way to arrive at a desirable name many parents are crazy about, while still using the traditional John.