Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 10th column, he looks at the history of the name Jonas.
Jonas begins receiving memories in Omaha next week.
“The Giver,” a play by Dan Coble based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel, opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse Friday. Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a society that eradicates pain by forbidding color, memory and individuality. Dissidents and the unwanted are “released” by poison. Jonas is chosen to be trained as the “Receiver of Memory” by The Giver, the present Receiver. They make a dangerous plan to reform their society and stop the “releasing” by restoring memory to all.
Jonas is the Greek form of Jonah (Hebrew Yonah, “dove”), the Old Testament prophet swallowed by a fish or whale. In the King James Bible, Jonah is used in the Old Testament, but nine mentions of the prophet in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke use “Jonas.”
After the Reformation, when parents turned to the Bible for names, Jonah and Jonas both appeared. Though not popular in Britain as a whole, Jonas was a top 10 name in West Yorkshire in the 1670s.
Britain’s 1851 census found 5,100 Jonases. The 1850 United States census, when the two countries had about the same population, found 8,039. Much of Jonas’ popularity in America was due to immigration from continental Europe. Jonas is the Old Testament as well as the New Testament form in most European languages. (Jonas is also the Lithuanian form of John.)
Like many Biblical and immigrant names, Jonas went out of style in the 20th century. It ranked 323rd in 1880 when Social Security’s yearly name lists start. By the 1930s it was rare; in 1958 and 1961 it wasn’t even among the top thousand.