John And Jack: Can Sibling Names Be Too Close?

Filed under: Baby Names

Dear Name Lady:

I have a 2-year-old son named John. We just found out that we're expecting another boy, and my husband and I really want to name him Jack. I come from the generation where Jack is Jack and John is John, but others see them as one and the same. Your thoughts?

- J

The idea that Jack is "short" for John may seem odd on the face of it. The names are the same length and have only one sound in common. In this century they're both standalone names, high on the charts. But for hundreds and hundreds of years, almost every Jack was actually christened John.What's the connection? One theory is that Jack is a shortened form of Jahnkin. ("Kin" was once a popular suffix for a pet name -- picture Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia fussing over her son Dudley as "Diddykins.") However it happened, the association between Jack and John is too old and deep to disappear in a single generation. Attractive as you may find them, I don't recommend using both in the same family.

Let's look at it from the perspective of a young Jack who has an older brother named John. For Jack, it seems an awful lot like he was named for his big brother. The origin of Jack as an offshoot of John takes away from Jack's individuality. It reinforces the idea that his identity is John's little brother, and seems to beg for comparisons between the two boys.

From John's perspective, it's a matter of territorial rights. One of the pleasures of a traditional name is the variety of well-established nicknames. You can try on different facets of identity by being Elizabeth or Charles at work, Liz or Chuck in the band, and Betsy or Charlie at home without anyone batting an eye. The nicknames are all traditional but all have different styles, and each highlights different elements of your personality.

Consider one of the most prominent John/Jacks of the past century, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. John is an eminently trustworthy name for an office holder. It suggests steadiness, trustworthiness and strength. But Jack has a cheery mischievousness and rakish charm (think Jack Kerouac, Jack Nicholson, Jack Black). John F. Kennedy may have been the president, but Jack Kennedy was the charismatic, Camelot figure.

The option of Jack as a nickname is usually a birthright of those named John. Giving it to a second son deprives your John of that optional alter-ego. A different choice would give both boys a little more room to carve out their own name identities.

How did you choose sibling names? Share your experiences! And if you have your own question to Ask the Name Lady, drop her a line!

Related: Creative Baby Names

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.