Reader Request Week 2015 #5: A Boy Named John
Hi there! I’d like to hear your thoughts about the name “John”. It’s one of the most common names in the English-speaking world. It’s also your name. Do you like being named John? If you had to change your name, what would you change it to?
“John” is indeed a very common male name in the English world, as are its various cognates in other languages (Ian, Sean, Juan, Ivan, etc), but in English at least, its stock has come down in quite a bit in recent years — once a perennial Top Ten name, last year “John” was merely the 55th most popular name in the US (according to this baby name site), wedged between “Julian” and “Colton.” At this point, if you hear someone’s named John, you might reasonably surmise he’s likely over 25, which of course in my case is perfectly correct.
I like being named “John” just fine, but I’ll also note that almost no one calls me by the name. In most social situations I am almost always and exclusively called “Scalzi” and have been since I was child, not by family (my family nickname was “John-John” to distinguish me from other Johns in the family, including my father) but by just about everyone else. Indeed, I am often referred to by “Scalzi” even when everyone else is referred to by first name (“I had dinner with Bob, Ted, Cyndi and Scalzi”).
One reason is practical: I’m usually the only Scalzi in most contexts, so referring to me by that name is useful for identification, particularly when there’s another John in the social mix, who is then often referred to by his first name. Another reason, I suspect, is that “Scalzi” is more fun to say than “John.” Go ahead, try it. A third reason is that I lucked into the name as branding — there are other Scalzis in the English-speaking world, but none so prominent as I; check Google on this for confirmation (or Bing, if you like, you deviant). There are other Scalzis, and there are even other John Scalzis, but in terms of to whom the name refers in our culture, I am the Scalzi. And that’s pretty cool. Might as well call me that name; it’s me.
Whereas I will never be the John, no matter how hard I try. There are several saints at the head of the line, and then a few kings and presidents, other world historical figures and then the long long line of celebrities who share the name. Even fictional Johns have more notability than I; I will never ever be more famous than John McClane, for example. I’m not necessarily even the first John people think of when it comes to science fiction: There are the Johns Varley, Wyndham, Christopher and Ringo which come to me right off the top of head, and many others I could name if I thought about it more, and of course there’s John W. Campbell, who as an editor largely defined what we think of as the “Golden Age” of science fiction.
Which is neither here nor there as to whether I like the name “John,” mind you. I do; it’s nice and comfortable and it’s me — I will answer to it, when it’s used (which is rarely) and it’s meant to refer to me in context (slightly more rarely). I just recognize that a very common name means that you share it with a wide number of people. “John” is me, but it’s not only me, and it will never be primarily me, when people think of the name, in the way “Scalzi” is.
As for what I would change my name to, well, as noted above, there’s already a name for me that, culturally speaking, I kind of own, and which is what most people actually use to refer to me, so changing my first name would not only be unnecessary, there’s also a real question of whether anyone would actually notice. But if I had to change it, and I would have to exclude “Jon” from the list of names I could change it to (technically “Jon” and “John” are different names), I’d probably go with “Michael,” which is my middle name and thus one comfortably already allied with my identity. And it’s about as common as “John,” which solves no problems, as far as names go. Fortunately, “Scalzi” is still available to me for identification purposes.
(There’s still time to ask questions for 2015’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)