All about the name John

In honour of John Lennon’s 37th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I felt it would be fitting to do a post about this most historically common of all male names, in just about every single language.

John comes from the Hebrew Yochanan, which means “God is gracious.” Its massive popularity over the ages originated thanks to John the Baptist and John the Apostle (traditionally-attributed author of the fourth Gospel and Book of Revelations).

Initially, the name was more common among Eastern Christians in the Byzantine Empire, but it took off like wildfire in the West after the First Crusade. It was particularly popular in England, where roughly a fifth of all boys received this name during the Late Middle Ages.

U.S. President John Quincy Adams, 11 July 1767–23 February 1848

Over the centuries, the name John, in all its linguistic variations, has been borne by countless writers, musicians, artists, scientists, philosophers, emperors, kings, popes, military leaders, politicians, and countless other types of people.

John was #1 in the U.S. from 1880–1923, and remained in the Top 5 until 1972. It was in the Top 10 until 1986, and the Top 20 until 2008. As of 2016, it was #28, a rank it previously held in 2012. The name has never charted any lower than this, though it feels like a breath of fresh air and original choice these days.

English poet John Keats, as painted by William Hilton, Halloween 1795–23 February 1821

Though it’s been a good many years since John was as common and popular as it once was, its continued presence in the Top 30 is a credit to its enduring appeal. It also still enjoys respectable popularity in Ireland (#28), Northern Ireland (#44), Scotland (#56), Canada (also #56), New Zealand (#85), Sweden (#87), Australia (#97), and England and Wales (#120).

John also used to be very popular in Norway, with a high rank of #10 in 1947. It fluctuated in popularity over the years, fell off the Top 100 in 2003, came back the next year, and then fell off again.

King John of England, 24 December 1166–19 October 1216, painted by Matthew Paris

Other forms of the name include:

1. Ivan is Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slovenian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Belarusian, Bosnian, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. The variation Iván is Spanish and Hungarian. The proper pronunciation, Ee-VAHN, is so beautiful, but the Anglo EYE-vinn just throws this gorgeous name away.

Nicknames include Vanya, Vanyechka, Vanyushka, Vanyusha, Vanyushechka, and Ivanko (Russian); Ivo, Vancho, Yanko (Bulgarian); Ivica, Ivo (Serbian and Croatian); and Vančo, Ivo (Macedonian).

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, my fourth-favourite writer, 28 October/9 November 1818–3 September 1883

2. Ioann is the older Russian form.

3. Iwan is Polish and Welsh. The Polish one pronounces the W like a V.

4. Ivane is Georgian. The nickname is Vano.

5. Ioane is the older Georgian form.

6. Giannis is modern Greek.

7. Giovanni is Italian. Nicknames include Gianni, Gian, Vanni, and Giannino.

8. Gjon is Albanian.

9. Ion is Romanian and Basque. Romanian nicknames include Iancu, Ionuţ, Ionel, and Nelu.

10. Jon is Basque and Scandinavian. The variation Jón is Icelandic and Faroese. This is #4 in Iceland.

11. Ioan is Welsh and Romanian.

12. Joan is Catalan and Occitan.

13. Ganix is Basque.

14. João is Portuguese. This name is #2 in Portugal.

15. Yoan is Bulgarian.

Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron, 16 June 1313–21 December 1375, engraved 1822 by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen in the style of Vincenzo Gozzini

16. Jowan is Cornish.

17. Yahya is Persian, Arabic, and Turkish.

18. Janusz is Polish. One of the nicknames is Janek.

19. Johan is Dutch and Scandinavian. Nicknames include Hans, Hannes, Janne (Swedish); Hanke, Hanne, Hannes, Hans, Joop, Jo (Dutch); Jannik, Jannick, Hans (Danish); and Hans (Norwegian).

20. Jens is Scandinavian.

21. Jan is Scandinavian, Dutch, Catalan, Czech, Slovenian, German, and Polish. The variation Ján is Slovak, with the nickname Janko.

22. Yann is Breton, with the nickname Yannig.

23. Johann is German, with the familiar nickname Hans. The variation Jóhann is Icelandic.

24. Johannes is German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Estonian, and Finnish. The variant Jóhannes is Icelandic and Faroese.

25. Juhan is Estonian. The alternate form Juhán is Northern Sami.

German scientist and mathematician Johannes Kepler, 27 December 1571–15 November 1630

26. Juanne is Sardinian.

27. Giuanne is also Sardinian.

28. Yohanes is Indonesian.

29. Hovhannes is Armenian. Nicknames include Hovik and Hovo.

30. Ohannes is also Armenian.

31. Ghjuvan is Corsican.

32. Ean is Manx.

33. Juan is Spanish and Manx, with different pronunciations.

34. Xuan is Asturian.

35. Jaan is Estonian.

German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, 21/31 March 1685–28 July 1750, painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann

36. Jean is French.

37. János is Hungarian, with nicknames including Jani and Jancsi.

38. Juhana is Finnish, with nicknames including Juho, Juha, Jussi, Jukka, Hannes, and Hannu.

39. Janne is also Finnish.

40. Joni is Finnish and Fijian.

41. Jani is also Finnish.

42. Juhani is another Finnish form.

43. Jouni is also Finnish.

44. Johano is Esperanto, with the nickname Joĉjo.

45. Yan is Belarusian.

French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 28 June 1712–2 July 1778, painted by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

46. Yann is Breton and French.

47. Jovan is Macedonian and Serbian.

48. Xoán is Galician.

49. Jóannes is Faroese.

50. Keoni is Hawaiian.

51. Jānis is Latvian.

52. Jonas is Lithuanian.

53. Sjang is Limburgish.

54. Sjeng is also Limburgish.

55. Chuan is Aragonese.

Spanish artist Joan Miró, 20 April 1893–25 December 1983

56. Gensch is Sorbian.

57. Ghjuvanni is Corsican.

58. Gian is Romansh and Swiss–German.

59. Gioann is Piedmontese.

60. Ġwann is Maltese.

61. Hoani is Maori.

62. Hone is also Maori.

63. Jardani is Caló Romany.

64. Jeian is Filipino.

65. Sione is Tongan.

Romanian writer Ion Creangă, 1837/39–31 December 1889

66. Tihoti is Tahitian.

67. Xán is Galician.

68. Yehya is Uyghur.

69. Yohana is Swahili.

70. Yohannes is Amharic.

71. Jaqiya is Kazakh.

72. Iefan is Welsh. The more familiar Anglicization is Evan.

73. Ifan is also Welsh, with the nickname Ianto.

74. Ioannis is modern Greek.

75. Eoin is Scottish and Irish.

Polish sci-fi writer Janusz Andrzej Zajgel, 15 August 1938–19 July 1985

76. Seán is Irish.

77. Iain is Scottish.

78. Ian is also Scottish.

79. Siôn is Welsh.

80. Yoann is Breton and French.

81. Giuàn is Lombard.

82. Giuvanni is Sicilian.

83. Yovaan is Tamil.

84. Hankin is a Medieval English nickname.

85. Jankin is another Medieval English nickname.

86. Jackin is a variation of Jankin, and the origin of the nickname Jack.

Virgil and Veronica

V

Publius Vergilius Maro (15 October 70–21 September 19 BCE)

Virgil, Dante’s idol, is his guide through Hell and most of Purgatory. He appears right in Canto I of Inferno, shortly after the book begins. Dante is initially rather frightened to see this shadowy figure, but ecstatic once he realizes who it is. Virgil then comforts him and promises to guide him on the amazing otherworldly journey he’s about to undertake.

While I was rushing on my downward course
Suddenly on my sight there seemed to start
One who appeared from a long distance hoarse.
When I beheld him in that great desert
“Have pity on me!” I cried out to his face,
“Whatsoever—shade or very man—you are.”
He answered me: “Not man; man once I was.
My parents both were of the Lombard name,
Of Mantua by their country and by their race.
Sub Julio I was born, though late I came:
In Rome the good Augustus shone on me,
In the time of the false gods of lying fame.
Poet was I, and sang of that just son
Of old Anchises, who came out from Troy
After the burning of proud Ilion.
But you, why do you turn back so annoyed?
Why don’t you climb the Mount Delectable
The cause and the beginning of all joy?”

Virgil derives from the Roman family name Vergilius, which is of unknown meaning. During the Late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, Vergilius morphed into Virgilius. This happened either because of a false etymology with the Latin word virgo (virgin) and Virgil’s excessive modesty, or an analogy between the Latin word virga (wand) and the prophetic, magical powers attributed to Virgil during the Middle Ages. Though I tend to prefer the authentic forms of names, I far prefer Virgil to Vergil. The E spelling looks kind of ugly to me.

Virgil was of course the author of The Aeneid, Latin’s greatest epic, about legendary hero Aeneas escaping Troy at the end of the Trojan War, having many adventures, and eventually founding Rome. He worked on the book during his final 11 years. I’m long overdue to revisit this book, with a better, more updated translation. Virgil also wrote The Ecologues and The Georgics.

Bearing of the Cross with St. Veronica, by Lucas van Leyden

Saint Veronica was said to have wiped Jesus’s face with her handkerchief, towel, or veil on the Via Dolorosa, and when he gave it back to her, it bore the image of his face. Every year in Rome, this artifact was exhibited at Easter and New Year. This incident is mentioned in Canto XXXI of Paradiso.

The story of Veronica wiping Jesus’s face isn’t mentioned in the Bible itself. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus identifies Veronica as the woman who was healed when touching Jesus’s hem on the Via Dolorosa.

Veronica is an alternate Latin form of the Macedonian name Berenike (Berenice), which means “bringing victory,” from the elements phero (to bring) and nike (victory). The original Greek form is Pherenike. The spelling was influenced by the Latin phrase vera icon, “true image.” It only became popular as an English name in the 19th century.

Veronika is the spelling used in most of Eastern and Central Europe; Weronika is the Polish version; Verónica is the Spanish form; Véronique is the French form; and Verônica is Portuguese.

My favorite forms of Theodore

Theodore is probably my third-favoritest male name of all time, after only Samuel and Peter. If I ever have children, and I have at least three boys, I’ll name the third Theodore, in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve just always adored the name, and the nickname Teddy. It also has a lot of awesome foreign variants. My favorites include:

1. Fyodor. This is the Russian form, which some people erroneously transliterate as Fedor or Feodor. The Russian letter Ë transliterates as YO, not E or EO. The modern transliteration Fyodor makes the pronunciation so obvious and immediately clear, whereas Fedor and Feodor suggest much different pronunciations to me. I also love the nickname Fedya, which has cute superdiminutives including Fedyushka, Fedyushenka, and Fedyushechka.

2. Teodor. This is the spelling used in much of Central, Eastern, Southern, and Northern Europe. I’m particularly fond of the Polish nickname Dorek.

3. Théodore. This is the French version. I’m a sucker for names with accent marks.

4. Todor. This is the Macedonian, Serbian, and Bulgarian form.

5. Theodor. This is the German form.

6. Teodoro. This is the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese form.

7. Tivadar. This is the Hungarian form. An alternate version is Tódor.

8. Fedir. This is the Ukrainian form.

9. Teodoras. This is the Lithuanian form.

10. Tudor. This is the Romanian form, and apparently quite popular at the moment.

Jordana and Jerome

J

Jordana is a Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Macedonian name, obviously the male form of Jordan. It’s taken from the name of the Jordan (Yarden) River in Israel, which is more like a creek than a big river. I’ve been in the Jordan river and gone past it, and I can personally testify that it’s not as epic as the songs make it out to be.

I love this name. It’s so gorgeous and underused. It also makes me think of Jordana Ben Canaan in the Leon Uris novel Exodus. (The film adaptation makes a complete mockery of the book, one of the worst book to movie adaptations I’ve ever suffered through.) Instead of naming your daughter Jordan or Jordyn, why not use the actual feminine form of the name and make her stand out from the crowd?

Jerome is an English name taken from the Greek Hieronymos, which means “sacred name.” If I were Catholic, I’d have taken Saint Jerome to be my patron saint, since he was such an awesome person, with such an incredible mind. He’s the patron saint of librarians, translators, students, scholars, encyclopedists, schoolchildren, archaeologists, Biblical scholars, and writers. Many writers choose him as their patron saint since he was such a man of letters himself, and they feel he understands them deeply.

My secondary character Father Rudolf Erlichmann (Father Rudi) names his church in Kassel, Germany after Saint Jerome. Father Rudi is also a man of letters, a brilliant intellectual, a world traveller, a hyperpolyglot, so many things Saint Jerome stands for. As a huge Three Stooges fan, I also love the name because Curly’s real name was Jerome. I have a cute stuffed chipmunk whom I named Jerome, after Curly. When I found out he had a real-life limp, I no longer felt ashamed about my own limp.