Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 25th column, he looks at the history of the name Jack.
Jack is an English nickname for John. In medieval England, “-kin” was common in nicknames, such as Wilkin and Adkin, from William and Adam. John led to Jankin, which became Jackin and then Jack. It’s possible confusion with Jacques, the French form of James, was also involved. By 1350, though, the English linked Jack to John, not James.
Around 1380, a third of Englishmen were named John. With so many Jacks, “jack” soon meant “common servant,” or any mechanical device doing servants’ work. By 1560, Jack Sprat was a skinny man. Jack and Jill have tumbled down hills since 1765. In 1660s Britain, a Jack-o’-lantern was a night watchman; in the United States, it became a candle-lit, carved Halloween pumpkin around 1834.
In 1996, Jack was back in Social Security’s top hundred. It peaked at 34th in 2005. That new popularity is exemplified by Omaha-based singing duo Jack & Jack (Gilinsky and Johnson), both born in 1996.
Then the American love of two syllable forms caused Jackson to explode to the No. 1 status it’s held since 2013. Between 2006 and 2015, Jack receded as Jackson boomed. Since 2017, as parents tire of Jackson, Jack has surged 10%. The 9,393 born last year ranked it 27th on my “combined spellings” list, beating John as an official name for the first time ever.