If you’re not a Jack, chances are you’ve dated one. If not, you definitely know at least two, but the number probably hovers closer to 10. That’s if my field research is anything to go by.
No workplace, friend group or classroom is complete without at least one “Jack”. When new Jacks cross paths and enter circles, all hell breaks loose: gossiping becomes a quagmire of confusion, conversation stilts, flow corrupts.
“I saw Jack there.”
“Your Jack, not my Jack. But actually, cute Jack was there too.”
“Which Jack is that?”
Why are there so… many… JACKS?
One time out at drinks, our table started Googling our names. There was Arielle, “lion of God” (Hebrew), Emma, “whole” or “universal” (Latin), Kallista, “most beautiful” (Greek). And then there was Jack, “an ordinary man” (Urban Dictionary).
Name etymology is universally intriguing and riddled with surprises. Take the name Madison, for instance. As reported in 2014, up until 1984, it wasn’t really a name - at least not in terms of the popularity it now sees. It definitely wasn’t a common baby girl’s name. It was typically a surname: The surname of a president, the title of the New York City square named after him, and the street named after that square – Madison Avenue.
In the 1984 film Splash, Tom Hanks’ character escorted a mermaid-turned-real-girl played by Daryl Hannah down the famous street, and encouraged her to choose a “human name”. Inspired by the street sign, she chose “Madison”.
“That’s not a name,” Hanks laughed. But Madison had made her decision, and, in the real world, the joke in the film happened to accidentally establish a name that went on to explode in popularity.
“As long as I can remember I’ve always had a congregation of Jacks around me.”
Jack had seemed to me such a commonplace, generic and forgettable name to bestow upon an innocent, sweet child. There had to be a reason, just like the Madison story. There had to be some cultural touchstone, text or moment that produced the 90s Jack-alanche. I was convinced. I just had to find out what it was.
My first thought was, of course, Titanic. What else could have procured a fascination for the name “Jack” but a box-office hit starring sweet baby Leo? Rose’s “Jack, I’m flying” and, “Jack…Jack! JACK!” were surely burnt into the hearts and minds of 90s mums-to-be, provoking an affinity for the pervasive, innocuous, monosyllabic J-name.
But that would have been too easy. Titanic came out in 1998, far too late in the decade to explain why I personally can vouch for an insane number of mid-20s Jacks. The mystery persisted.
A journalist always probes deeper. I decided to reach out to a bunch of 90s Jacks, armed with one burning question: “Why did your parents name you Jack?”
Jack W, 26 years-old: Apparently it’s the most common name for boys in that time period. I was actually named after my great grandfather who died before I was born, not exactly sure when he was born but my best guess is around 1920.
Jack N, 23 years-old: I’ve asked my parents before and Mum said that right after I was born she was just exhausted and thinking of a name was too hard, so she passed me to dad and said “name him whatever you want, I don’t care”. And the first thing dad thought of was Jack.
Jack H, 27 years-old:
Jack D, 24 years-old: My mum said, “We always wanted a ‘Jack’, just because we liked the name, but [we thought] about other names first. Then you came along and you were just ‘Jack’.”
Jack R, 27 years-old: Well, originally my Dad wanted to call me Indiana, after Indiana Jones. But my Mum wasn’t too keen on that idea so I was named after my grandfather John Connor, incidentally also a famous movie character's name – see Terminator franchise. He was known by all his friends as Jack, so that’s what they named me.
Jack W, 24 years-old:
Jack S, 27 years-old: Omg about time this was brought to light! Wish I had an interesting story for you but really it just came down to my parents liking the name and the fact that my granddad referred to my uncle as Jack even though his name is Jason? Every chance I get I hit them up and I’m like, “why be so unoriginal??”
Jack has been a popular name since the war days, with its use originating with the diggers of the first world war. The name is short for John, and was used colloquially to refer to any old guy. The obsession isn’t strictly Australian, but it is more pronounced here. In the US it went from ranking at 46 in 2000, to number 21 in 2020, but here, it’s been in the top ten names for the past two decades. “Jack” really began peaking in popularity in the late 80s, and then took the fuck off in the 90s.
Jack is sitting at number three for Australian baby names in 2020. It was knocked off the top spot in 2013 by Oliver, which has remained at number one since. Apparently the parents of Gen Alpha are getting a bit more esoteric with their naming choices.
None of this really helped me in my quest, of course. It is incomprehensible to me that a parent would choose the number one most popular name in a country with 25 million people. But I am just some asshole, privileged to have an uncommon name (although all I wanted as a kid was for a “normal” name like Jessica or Isabella). I don’t even want kids. Who am I to say what I’d dub them if I did.
But as it turns out, Jacks aren’t a monolith. And not all of them hate their names.
Jack W, 26 years-old: I like it! When I was younger I felt that it was a bit commonplace and wasn’t really “me”. I really wanted a nickname but was never really given one. But I’ve come to like it more as I’ve gotten older.
Jack D, 24 years-old: Contrary to popular opinion, I actually really like my name. I like when I’m asked, “is it short for something?”, and I say, “no, just Jack.” I have a lot of Jacks in my circle, but all of us are so different it feels like we have different names, to me that is anyway.
Not sure how others feel about their Jack status.
As long as I can remember I’ve always had a congregation of Jacks around me. Which, when I was young and naive, compelled me to compare myself to the other Jacks. Now it ain’t no thing, if anything I forget that we share the same name.
Jack N, 23 years-old: I was one of eight Jacks in my year level in high school and we all had to be identified by surname. I used to dislike it in high school because of the individuality complex, but now I don’t really care and I kind of like it.
Jack S, 27 years-old: Being a Jack has to be one of the most taxing and unoriginal experiences because every man and his bloody dog is called Jack. Growing up I don’t think I ever had a class in primary school where there wasn’t at least one other Jack in the class, which definitely created this unspoken battle between us over who was going to be the better Jack. Being a Jack is so exhausting, literally two of my best mates who live together are dating Jacks who also fucking live together and it really doesn’t suit my narcissistic, main character energy.
Jack R, 27 years-old: I’ve never given it much thought but yeah, I do like my name! One syllable, and sounds funny in French.
Ultimately, Jack is still the third most popular name in the country. The more babies that are named “Jack”, the more the name will embed itself deeper in the cultural fabric. Maybe one day, Jacks everywhere will form an alliance, and take control of the world.
Maybe they already have.
But there is no big secret. People just like the name. Only one thing is clear: As long as people are around, there will always be a Jack.
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