Arrant Pedantry

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That’s My Name; Please Wear It Out

Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that my name has a slightly unusual spelling: it’s Jonathon rather than Jonathan. If you’ve ever been tempted to joke that my parents spelled my name wrong, please don’t. I’ve been hearing that joke for over thirty years now, and I can promise you that it wasn’t funny even the first time.

But in a way the jokers are right. I’m named after the Old Testament figure (the son of Saul and friend of David), whose name is usually rendered Jonathan in English translations of the Bible. My parents thought the -on form was the usual spelling, so that’s what they put on my birth certificate. But I happen to like the spelling of my name, and, anyway, it’s a legitimate variant. The NameVoyager on Baby Name Wizard shows that it’s been around since at least the 1940s or ’50s, though it’s never rivaled Jonathan in popularity. I’ve been asked if the unusual spelling of my name helped propel me to become an editor because I had to pay extra attention to the spelling, but I don’t think it’s true. It makes a nice story, though.

However, my name does serve as sort of a miniature editing test for those times when I’m hiring editorial interns. I’m usually pretty generous with who I invite to come take our editing test, but applicants who address their emails to Jonathan Owens never seem to do as well on it. If you’re applying to an editing job, you’d do well to make sure you spell the hiring manager’s name right.

But I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that most people won’t spell it right without help. I don’t usually bother to spell it for people in situations where it doesn’t matter, like when someone is taking my order at a fast-food place and they just need to get it close enough that they can call out my name correctly. (Though I appreciate when they ask how to spell it anyway.)

Occasionally I’ll get it spelled right, but more often I get Jonathan or Johnathan or Johnathin or some other weird spelling that makes me wonder if the person writing it has ever seen the name before. For years the weirdest version I’d ever gotten was Jhonathen, but just a couple of months ago I got a receipt that said Jouhathine. I’m not sure that one will ever be topped.

But the one thing that I can’t stand is people automatically shortening my name to Jon. Though, in all honesty, sometimes it’s just as annoying when they ask if they can shorten it. On a couple of occasions I’ve had conversations like this:

Arby’s cashier: Can I get a name?
Me: Jonathon.
Arby’s cashier: Can I put John? I don’t want to butcher it.
Me, mentally: You kind of just did.

It’s annoying enough when I give my name to the cashier at Arby’s as Jonathon and they put Jon or John* on my receipt, but it really grates when I introduce myself to someone as Jonathon and they immediately call me Jon. You’d be surprised how often I’ve had exchanges that go like this:

Them: What’s your name?
Me: Jonathon.
Them: Jon? Nice to meet you.

Did I not enunciate well enough? Was their attention span so short that they could only manage to catch the first syllable? Do they just assume that anybody with a name as long as mine—three whole syllables!—naturally prefers a short form, even though I didn’t give them one? And then I always feel like a jerk for correcting them, even though I shouldn’t have to. (Side note: There was a lot of gratuitous backstorification in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but the part that annoyed me the most was when Han learns Chewbacca’s name and then decides to call him Chewie—without asking if he was okay with it!—because Chewbacca is just too long.)

The funny thing is that I tried to go by Jon once when I was a kid, and it didn’t go well. We had moved to Utah during the summer and were living with my grandma while we saved for a house. On the first day of second grade in my new school, my teacher asked if I preferred Jon or Jonathon. On a whim, I said Jon, so that’s what everyone called me. The only problem is that I wasn’t used to going by Jon—my family only ever called me Jonathon—so when people said my name, it always took me a second to realize that they were talking to me. But by then it was too late to do anything about it. I felt too embarrassed to announce to the class that, on second thought, I preferred Jonathon after all.

Thankfully, we moved into our own place just a few weeks into the school year, so I was able to start over at a new school, once again as Jonathon.

And that’s how I’ve remained ever since. Maybe you’re dying to point out that it looks like a misspelling to you, or you might be itching to ditch those extra syllables and just call me Jon, but please refrain. I’m happy with my name just how it is.


* You may be surprised to learn that the names Jonathan and John are unrelated. Jonathan comes from the Hebrew יְהוֹנָתָן‎ (Yehonatan) or יוֹנָתָן‎ (Yonatan), meaning ‘Jehovah has given’. John, on the other hand, comes from the Hebrew יוֹחָנָן‎ (Yochanan), meaning ‘God is gracious’. But because of their similar forms, people conflate Jon and John and then start spelling Jonathan like Johnathan.

9 Responses to That’s My Name; Please Wear It Out

  1. Darla Jean Weatherford says:

    I can relate to your Jon/Jonathon problem. My family always called me by the double name Darla-Jean (not hyphenated back then), but since only Darla showed up as the first name on rosters, my teachers would call my name several times at the beginning of the school year until 1 or another of my classmates would realize they meant me and tell her to try Darla Jean. I always just sort of figured it must be some other Darla–although I don’t know that I’ve ever met more than 1 or 2 in all my decades.

  2. Anne Brennan says:

    I can relate.

    It’s amazing how many people address a reply to “Ann” even though I clearly and consistently sign my emails “Anne.”

    I think this kind of carelessness is rude.

  3. Dirk says:

    I once gave my name to the cashier at a fast food place as “Dirk”. What they called was “Hector”. 😮

    • Wow. I think the worst one I’ve gotten that wasn’t Jon/John was Johnson, but at least that makes phonological sense. I guess the /dəɹ/ in Dirk is similar to the /təɹ/ in Hector, but that’s still pretty weird. Is the /t/ in Hector deaspirated? I guess that would make it a little more similar. But then you’ve still got a few missing or extra sounds in there.

  4. GeoX says:

    My name is Geoff short for Geoffrey, which I realize isn’t *that* unusual, but you quickly realize that there is zero percent chance that anyone is going to spell it right without prompting, and for fleeting contacts that don’t mean anything, you don’t even bother. And sometimes more than that: I remember I was teaching at a school and my name, *Geoff,* was just ALL OVER schedules and emails and memos, and yet people who had definitely seen these things persisted in spelling it “Jeff.” Weird.

  5. Lauren P says:

    Great post!

    I’m a Lauren who frequently gets called Laura, in both spoken and written communication. It’s especially disappointing in professional or customer service contexts where I would expect the person communicating with me to use my actual name (which is clearly printed in my email signature, social media profile, etc…).

  6. Chris says:

    Not quite the same, but when my daughter Jennifer was little, she told us one day, “Just call me Jenny. I don’t like the “fer” part.” 😀

  7. James says:

    Benjamin Dryer has an entire chapter on the importance of getting proper nouns right in his book, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. And he recommends your site in the Things I Like section at the back of his book. He spells your name wrong.

    • I actually mentioned that to him when I got my book signed, and he promised it would be fixed in a future printing. It is spelled correctly in the acknowledgments, though.

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