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John And Jack: Can Sibling Names Be Too Close?

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.


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November 5, 2009 3:21 PM
By Abby@AppMtn (not verified)

This is such an interesting issue. I have a friend who named her sons Sean and Jack.

It never occurred to her that she was using the same name twice. And, truthfully, Sean and Jack strike me as *just* on the right side of separate.

But John and Jack? No. They're both great names, but they're too close!

November 5, 2009 3:30 PM
By knp (not verified)

I agree that Sean and Jack are different enough to be considered 'separate' names. It helps that Jack is not used as a nickname for Sean, and Sean is a derivative of the name John, not a nn. I think in another generation Jack will become a name of its own and not thought of a nn.

I've heard the same reasoning for not using Isabella and Elizabeth-- they are derivatives of the same name-- but are they both established derivatives, making them different names?

I mean, archaic and archetype both derive from arche - beginning or archaios - old, but they are still unique words.

November 5, 2009 4:20 PM
By Chelsea (not verified)

I agree with knp that Sean is a variant of John, not a nickname of it. A man named John does not decide to go by Sean as a nicknname. An analogous combination would be sisters named Margaret and Peggy. Peggy is a name in its own right, but also a recognized nickname for Margaret. Conversely, I think sisters named Sarah and Sadie would not really encounter this issue; although Sadie is derived from Sarah, it is no longer used as a go-to nickname.

November 6, 2009 11:17 AM
By Aimee (not verified)

Agreed. Jack is too close to John.
I am having a similar issue with Lenore and Eleanor. My daughter's middle name is Lenore, but the first name of Eleanor is still on the table if we were to have another girl. Thoughts on that?

November 7, 2009 4:22 PM
By Lane

I feel you, Aimee. My daughter's middle name is Beatrix, but that is still one of my favorite first names if WE were to have another girl.

I'd say to both you and me, probably no but I understand the impulse. And I love Eleanor!

November 7, 2009 5:08 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think having the middle name of one daughter and the first name of another daughter be similar is not wrong, assuming the first doesn't go by her middle name. My dad's middle name and his youngest brother's first name are the same. However, it was never a problem. If you like the name, I say go for it, Aimee.

November 10, 2009 9:43 AM
By Zoerhenne (not verified)

It's weird as I have no real reasoning for it, but I will go against the majority and say if you love it then go for it. I DO feel that Lenore and Eleanor are too close. John and Jack however, have different feelings to me. I do know about the derivations of Jack but feel like if you only call your first John and only call the 2nd Jack then they are two different names. Btw, my brother was John and we NEVER called him Jack and NEVER even thought about it.

November 13, 2009 2:35 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think the point of the answer is that it doesn't matter whether YOU call your son John "Jack" or not... the idea is about leaving it open for him to choose that option for himself later down the line, without seeming like he's copying the name of his younger brother. Jack is a pretty basic nickname for John, even though they don't sound exactly alike. It's like Dick for Richard or Bob for Robert... not exactly the same, but a recognized nickname for the name.

November 13, 2009 10:24 PM
By Jamie (not verified)

My middle name is Danielle after a family member. That family member passes away shortly before my sister was born so Danielle is her first name. Two of my brothers also share a name (middle of the older, first name of the younger) just because our mom really liked it and wanted to use it again. It has caused absolutely no problems for any of us and I actually really enjoy it. It is a special connection my sister and I share and it connects both of us to the family member we were named after. As well, it is a quirky fact to share about our families naming pattern.

November 14, 2009 12:58 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Jack and John are too close, I'm sorry to say. Maybe if it weren't for JFK, or maybe after a couple more generations go by, people won't think about it, but right now, they strike me as being one and the same. It would kind of be like naming your kids, "Rob and Bob."

November 14, 2009 4:57 PM
By Nicola (not verified)

My husband and I have discussed our baby names and for a boy we only agree on Alastair and Alexander. The Scottish gaelic and english versions of the same name. We're Irish but I do wonder if we could ever name brothers these names. My granda was John but known as Jack, so I definitely wouldn't have Jack and John brothers.

November 15, 2009 7:12 AM
By Heather (not verified)

I agree that John and Jack are too close. It's a timely post because I'm trying to come up with a name for a baby girl. I have a 2-year-old named Susannah. I'm thinking that my two favorite names might be too close in sound: Sylvia or Saskia with Susannah? Anyone want to weigh in?
The only other name I love is Iris. But that's Susannah's middle name. We clearly weren't thinking ahead.

November 23, 2009 12:01 AM
By Brandy (not verified)

My mother named my youngest "twin" brothers both JAMES..with different middle names ..same last name..although one happens to be a Jr. the other is named after a great great...grand father we never even knew...sooo yea...thats pretty much TOO close!

November 23, 2009 9:19 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I knew a family that had a Michael, Michelle, and a Mikayla...too close!!!

August 10, 2010 3:21 PM
By Meaghan (not verified)

Two of my five brothers are named Sean and Ian, which are both variations of John, but as far as I know no one has really remarked on that. But Jack and John are too close.

January 7, 2011 10:40 PM
By Cailin (not verified)

I'm not even of child bearing age and I know several John's that go by Jack, so I don't think they are different names yet. It would be different if your eldest was Owen or Sean (Irish variants of John) and the next was Jack because the association between them isn't the same (e.g. Jack isn't a nickname for Sean).

March 25, 2011 2:59 AM
By Tarmie (not verified)

I would have no hesitation in naming my kids Jack and John except that they're the names of two of my favourite characters in the "Stargate" franchise (Jack O'Neill and John Sheppard, played by Richard Dean Anderson and Joe Flanigan respectively) and most people know I love SG, so it would be a bit too obvious. :( I would relinquish "John" (the name) before I let go of "Jack", however!

Also, if Jack Nicholson or Jack Black give a sense of "cheery mischievousness and rakish charm", then I'm clearly not watching the right movies. I've always found Nicholson to be creepy, no matter what role he plays (not to mention IRL), and Black to be crude and obnoxious ... Kung Fu Panda notwithstanding.

Jack O'Neill, however ... definitely cheery mischievousness and rakish charm! <3

June 7, 2011 10:49 PM
By sleepless in seattle (not verified)

some names are just too similar. i know a family with two girls-the eldest, hannah and the younger, shannah (pronounced shaina). it just looks like the mom got lazy and it always keeps the younger in the shadow of the older. give each child their individuality, beginning with their name :)

June 7, 2011 10:51 PM
By sleepless in seattle (not verified)

some names are just too similar. i know a family where the eldest girl is hannah and the younger is shannah (pronounced shaina). it just seems like the mother was lazy/not creative and the younger is always in the shadow of the older sibling. give your kids individuality... beginning with the name :)

March 27, 2012 9:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have cousins (who are brothers) called Ian Edward and John Edward. It drives me a little crazy.

March 5, 2017 11:28 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

well they are both common either way

March 5, 2017 11:29 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)


March 5, 2017 11:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

they are both common either way

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