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Name Sage: The Cat Stole Our Baby Name

Name Sage: The Cat Stole Our Baby Name

The arrival of a new family pet has upended their plans for what to name their new son. What's the best alternative to John-called-Jack? The Name Sage weighs in on this family's cat-astrophe.

Katrina writes:

My husband and I are adopting and just got matched with a baby boy!

We always planned to name him John and call him Jack, the same as my father-in-law. The name John has been passed down in my husband's family for five generations. My husband goes by John.

The problem is, my husband's parents just rescued an elderly cat that came with the name Jack. If we were to stick with our initial plan, we'd now have three Jacks running around. We prefer not to call the little one John on a daily basis, so we're a bit stuck.

My husband is fine coming up with a brand new name, but we've never discussed boy names because it was settled.

If we had a girl, we were going to name her Bennett.

I'd love advice on nicknames for John or inspiration for a totally new name!

The Name Sage replies:

Before we talk about creative nicknames or substitutes for Jack, I wonder if you really need a new plan at all?

I can see that Jack might feel taken at this point. And yet … imagine that your parents’ rescue cat arrived in their home sometime in 2022, after your John-called-Jack joined your family. It might be awkward, I suppose, but certainly no one would automatically be renamed.

And while I wish your parents many happy years with their feline Jack, it’s worth considering a cat’s lifespan. Outdoor cats live around seven years; an indoor cat, twice as long. Since you referred to the cat as a senior, my guess is that the cat might not be with your parents by the time your son starts kindergarten.

In other words: with five generations of history and a long-standing plan, I’m not sure if I’d let cat Jack derail my plans for baby Jack.

But you wrote in asking for alternatives, so let’s get back to your original question.

UNEXPECTED JOHN NICKNAMES

My first thought: what’s your son’s middle name? Does it lend itself to use as a first? Or would the initials lead to a nickname – JR, JD, JC? JC can even become Jace. John Finley or John Felix might be Jeff. (Or … Jof?)  

JACKSON – It’s easy to imagine Jackson shortened to Jack. But it’s not such a stretch to imagine a John called Jackson.

JAKE – Strictly speaking, Jake is short for Jacob, name-cousin to James. And no one shortens James to Jake. But Jake is so close, why couldn’t John be Jake? A drawback: Jack, Jack, Jake isn’t much less confusing.

JOCK – I’m dutifully listing this because it’s a Scottish pet form of John, but I wonder if it’s better for a small dog – or cat – rather than a human?

JOE – Drop the ‘n’ and John could be Joe.

JOHNNY – A retro charmer and the obvious nickname for John.

JONATHAN – Would Jonathan be close enough to continue the tradition? Not only is it distinct from John and Jack, but it opens the door to nicknames Nat and Nate. It's not a nickname, but I'm listing it here anyway becuase it's just so close to John.

JONO – In our age of Leo, Milo, Nico, and Arlo, why not Jono?

JOSS – Rare but not unknown, Joss could work as a nickname for John – especially with an S middle.

QUINN - And because your son will be the fifth John in as many generations, names meaning five, like Quinn and Finn, could even work.

NAMES LIKE JACK

BEN – Since you like Bennett for a girl, would you consider Bennett – or Benjamin or Benedict – for a boy? Ben has the same straightforward sound and appeal as Jack.

COLE – Brief and bright, Cole has a long history of use as a first and a last, from Old King Cole to Nat King Cole. It can also be a Nicholas nickname.

HANK – Hank and Jack could be brothers – or best friends. And, of course, Hank might be short for Henry, which seems like a classic in the key of John.

KAI – A more modern choice than most on this list, Kai comes from the Hawaiian word for the sea. It shares much of Jack’s brisk, high-energy sound.

MAX – Maybe the most logical substitute for Jack. Plenty of longer Max names appeal, but just Max remains the most popular of them all.

NATE – It could be short for Jonathan, or Nate can stand on its own.

RAFE – Either a Raphael nickname or the British pronunciation of Ralph – think Fiennes – Rafe is dashing and unexpected.

THEO – If Jono was close but not quite, would the more mainstream Theo, or Theodore called Theo, appeal?

Since you have to decide quickly, and you’re changing up a long-decided name, I’d suggest giving yourself options.

A first-middle combination like John Maxwell could be John, Jack, Max, or even Wells.

I do think that, after five generations, dropping John entirely seems like too much of a sacrifice. Though you might use it as a middle name instead – Benedict “Ben” John or Cole Jonathan, maybe?  

As for unconventional nicknames, my favorite is probably calling him Jackson. Because your top choice for a daughter is also a surname name, I wonder if it fits your style better than just John or Jack, too?

Readers, please hop over to the forums to help this family brainstorm a good alternative for John-called-Jack ... or to share how you solved a same-named pet dilemma!

About the Author

Abby Sandel

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.