John is traditionally said to be the commonest forename in the UK, although among boys born in the UK in 2012 it had slipped from the top hundred in popularity. (John Smith is said to be the commonest forename + surname combination.) John is also the name of the fictional stereotype for an Englishman, John Bull. John Doe is a legal fiction in the United States, applied to any male who cannot be identified, for example because dead without papers or other ID; it is also used as a 'Mister X' in hypothetical law cases.
Readers of AWE can find guidance on:
- Several Saint Johns who are important in Christian culture.
- Two King Johns in UK history. There have been kings called John in other countries, notably France, Bohemia and Portugal.
- There have been no fewer than 23 Popes called John - see Popes (alphabetical list A-L).
The name John has different forms in other languages, some hard to recognize. For example, among the Celtic languages, the Welsh equivalent is Siôn, and the Irish (Erse) form Seán, usually written in English without the accent (Sean), sometimes as Shawn, which represents how it is pronounced, and Shane; the Gaelic is Iain, often given in English as Ian. Among the Romance languages, the French is Jean, the Italian Giovanni; and the Spanish Juan, Catalan Joan and Portuguese João. The German is Johannes, or, less formally, Hans. In Russian, it is Ivan, as it is in informal Welsh Ieuan (pronounced by the English as '[y]eye-an', IPA: /'jaɪ æn/), Ifan or Evan. Jack is an informal shortening in England; in lowland Scots this becomes Jock.
There is an adjective meaning 'to do with John': Johannine. By convention, this usually refers to the Saint John or Saint Johns who wrote in the New Testament: the writer(s) of the Gospel according to John, the three Epistles of John, and the Revelation of Saint John the Divine. These are traditionally identified with the Apostle John, but, as AWE's page on Saint John makes clearer, this is by no means certain.
John can also be a surname: famous bearers include the singer Elton John (pseudonym of Reginald Dwight), the painters Augustus John (1878-1961) and his sister Gwen John (1876-1939) and a German Otto John (1909-1997), who plotted against Hitler in 1944, and became a Cold War cause célèbre when he was imprisoned for treason in 1956.
- Etymological note: The name started, in our culture, with the Hebrew יוֹחָנָן (Johanan 'Jehovah has favoured' (Withycombe), or Yochanan meaning "Yahweh is gracious" (wikipedia). This is cognate with the Arabic يحيى Yahyā: Islam regards John the Baptist as an important holy prophet, preceding both Issa (Jesus) and Mohammed in time: the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus still claims to possess the relic of his head. Johanan became Johannus in Latin, and the other current names in Europe are all distortions of that. It may help some to know why we have a completely silent letter '-h-' in our name John - pronounced 'jon', IPA: /dʒɒn/. (Note that the name written Jon is a shortening of Jonathan, which has no direct link with John at all. The conventional abbreviation of John is Jno.)
- Two slang meanings - apart from several casual uses in informal English ('Sir John' was a common nickname for a priest in Shakespeare's time, and '[a] john' (sometimes with one of a variety of surnames) has been a derogatory name for a policeman in Australia, New Zealand and the United States) - may be worth knowing: In North America, a john is a common euphemism for a lavatory, or W.C.; and in Britain and in North America, a john is also the term used in the profession for the client of a prostitute - a 'trick'.