John Today, Gianni Tomorrow

John Today, Gianni Tomorrow

Guest blogger SONIA TSURUOKA, who’s been interning at nameberry this month, examines the long rise and recent fall of the name John and the advent of its upstart cousins.

Pretty much everybody knows someone named John.

Backed by its rich history and plenty of timeless appeal, this all-time favorite enjoyed its moment of baby-name stardom, gaining a measure of glitz and glamour thanks to high-profile hotties John Travolta, John Cusack, and Johnny Depp, along with celebrity parents like Michelle Pfeiffer, Bono, and Rob Lowe all named their sons John.

Yet after dropping out of the Top 25 this year for the first time in recorded baby name history, John seems destined to keep sliding.

Which leads us to ask: what, exactly, is its future? What newer, more timely forms are taking the place of the original? And what made John such a classic to begin with?

Like a lot of names, John first got its start in biblical times. Blame it on the Baptists and the Apostles, but in those days, everybody and their brother was named John. Even the English caught on – you know, after a century or ten – and were so smitten with the name that they bestowed it upon a fifth of all English boys during the Middle Ages.

John was used for so many boys (sometimes in the same family) that it spawned a variety of nicknames.  The medieval Jankin, for instance, morphed into Jackin was shortened to Jack.  For years, Jack rivaled John in the polls – both inside and outside of Great Britain – spawning everything from Jack and the Beanstalk to Jack Russell terriers.

But by the early 20th century, John — and to a lesser extent, Jack — had acquired so many rude associations that it lost stature as a name.  Toilets and clients of prostitution were called johns, there were the generic John Q. Public and John Doe, prices were jacked up, and….it gets worse.  In 1924, John fell out of the Number 1 place (it was replaced by Robert), which it’s never regained.

And John‘s fate is likely to continue to spiral downward.  By 2004, it had already plummeted from the Top 50 in England and WalesJack, on the other hand, flourished in its native land, as the most popular male name from 1995 to 2005. It’s still solidly in England’s Top 5, though it’s never breached the American Top 10 (it was Number 42 in the most recent year counted).

The most popular John and Jack relative right now is Jackson, taking over the Number 25 spot. While Jackson feels like a newcomer name, nudged into the spotlight by painter Pollock and musician Browne, it’s actually been on the Top 1000 since the start of American baby-naming time, as high in 1880, when it was number 247, as it was in 1991.

Spelling variation Jaxon was one of the swiftest rising boys’ names this year, and also making strides up the charts are the Italian Giovanni and Gianni. Irish variation Sean, despite or perhaps because of its choice for her son by Britney Spears, is dropping after its highs in the 70s and 80s.

Jack, however, is Hollywood’s favorite name.  Jack Shepard, of Lost, and Jack Bauer, of 24, have done their name proud, risking their hides to accomplish Herculean feats like incarcerating terrorists, and maybe even banishing a smoke monster or two. Other notable Jacks are lovable eccentrics, like swashbuckling pirate Jack Sparrow – played by Johnny Depp – who always have a Jack Daniels at arm’s length, and  30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy, who’s juggled romances with Greta van Susteren, Condoleezza Rice, and Beyonce. Jacks of all Trade indeed!

SONIA TSURUOKA is an incoming freshman at Johns Hopkins University. She loves the name Jack – mainly because of her fascination with writer Jack Kerouac – and has always been intrigued by its etymology. Over the course of her high school career, she’s served as the Editor-in-Chief of her school newspaper, literary magazine, and the Opinions Editor of Her interests include everything from politics to pop culture, and she ultimately plans to pursue a career in journalism after double-majoring in International Studies and Writing Seminars.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.