Last night I came across an article that not only irritated me for its obvious clickbait ridiculousness, but just for its general ridiculousness of inquiry. Who is the type of person to seek out writing the journalism piece Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John ? None other than the liberal bastion of dying hope known as The New York Times. Seeing as how i’ve just put together this blogpost in less than 30 minutes, maybe the author could’ve just as easily investigated the long history and commonality of the name John first? I thought I’d tackle two.
Both highly innocuous and pretty powerful. Is it because they are one syllable and easy to remember, that they’ve stood the test of time and snowballed into larger, more meaningful labels?
John Doe, the anyone; or John Smith, the ultimate no one or everyone male.
Dear John, the preface to a relationship ending letter; or the other extreme ‘a John’ : a hooker’s pimp or a young girl’s sugar daddy. Similarly, a guy’s johnson.
Meaning & History
English form of Iohannes, the Latin form of the Greek name Ιωαννης (Ioannes), itself derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan) meaning “YAHWEH is gracious”. This name owes its popularity to two New Testament characters, both highly revered saints. The first is John the Baptist, a Jewish ascetic who was considered the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The second is the apostle John, who is also traditionally regarded as the author of the fourth Gospel and Revelation.
This name was initially more common among Eastern Christians in the Byzantine Empire, but it flourished in Western Europe after the First Crusade. In England it became extremely popular: during the later Middle Ages it was given to approximately a fifth of all English boys.
The name (in various spellings) has been borne by 21 popes and eight Byzantine emperors, as well as rulers of England, France, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Russia and Hungary. It was also borne by the poet John Milton (1608-1674), philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), American founding father and president John Adams (1735-1826), and poet John Keats (1795-1821). Famous bearers of the 20th century include author John Steinbeck (1902-1968), assassinated American president John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), and musician John Lennon (1940-1980).
The Word Sense dictionary lays out more details.
The funnier thing is, Jack is considered a ‘pet form’ of John. What the hell does ‘pet form’ mean? Where is that logical jump? Why can’t i help imagining actually kneeling down and patting the top of a puppies head? Not really. Actually, Jack is the medieval diminutive of John, which means only one’s close friends or relatives used it. This being the case, it makes sense that Jack was often used in fairytales, i.e. Jack and the Beanstalk.
Don’t know jack (shit), this is jacked-up (wrong or stupid), someone got jacked (robbed), jack of all trades (handyman), Jack in the Box, Jack Frost, Jack Daniel’s, Jack the Ripper…
~1593 William Shakespeare: Richard III: Act I, Scene III:
Since every Jack became a gentleman
there’s many a gentle person made a Jack.
The Word Sense on Jack.
I imagine our new cultural norms have given both names more meanings and applications as society saw fit. Since we have been naming, they have been most familiar.
Where’s Jane and Jill in all this? Let me gather my faux-feminist outrage! Maybe this is what the New York Times should write on, though I’m sure Jezebel already has.
I’m weird, why do i care about these things?! Dallas is having ferocious rainy weather. This is my version of twiddling my thumbs and staring into my belly button. The truth is, letting yourself roll with one thought or inquisition leads to learning. And really, the NYTimes should hire me since I do a much better investigative piece -minus the agenda.