English and Welsh: ultimately from the Hebrew personal name Yoḥanan ‘Jehovah has favored (me with a son)’ or ‘may Jehovah favor (this child)’. This personal name was adopted into Latin (via Greek) as Johannes, and has enjoyed enormous popularity in Europe throughout the Christian era, being given in honor of Saint John the Baptist, precursor of Christ, and of Saint John the Evangelist, author of the fourth gospel, as well as the nearly one thousand other Christian saints who bore the name. Some of the principal forms of the personal name in other languages are: Welsh Ieuan, Evan, Siôn, and Ioan; Scottish Ia(i)n; Irish Séan; German Johann, Johannes; Dutch and Slavic Jan; French Jean; Italian Giovanni; Spanish Juan; Portuguese João; Greek Iōannēs (vernacular Giannis, Yannis); Russian Ivan. There were a number of different forms of the name in Middle English, including Jan(e), a male name (see Jayne ); Jen (see Jenkin ); Jon(e) (see Jones ); and Han(n) (see Hann ). By the beginning of the 14th century John rivalled William in popularity and has always been a favorite name. Johan became Jo(h)n, and another Old French form Jehan was shortened to Jan and Jen, giving rise to Old French and Middle English diminutives such as Jonin, Janin, and Jenin. More common in Middle English were Jankin, Jonkin, and Jenkin, which were Middle Dutch pet forms introduced after the Conquest by Flemish and Picard settlers. The most common pet form of John was Jack, another borrowing from Flemish and Picard usage. Han may sometimes have been a short form of Johan but was more usually a pet form of Henry. There were also various Middle English feminine versions of this name (e.g. Joan, Jehan), some of which were indistinguishable from masculine forms. The distinction on grounds of gender between John and Joan was not firmly established in English until the 17th century. It was even later that Jean and Jane were specialized as specifically female names in English; bearers of these surnames and their derivatives are more likely to derive them from a male ancestor than a female. As a surname in the British Isles, John is particularly frequent in Wales, where it is a late formation representing Welsh Siôn rather than the older form Ieuan (which gave rise to the surname Evan ). In North America, the English form of the surname has absorbed many cognates from other languages, e.g. Assyrian/Chaldean Youkhana , French Jean , Hungarian János (see Janos ), Slovenian Janež and Janeš (see Janes ), Czech Jan , Albanian Gjoni , and their derivatives (see examples at Johnson ). The name John is also found among Christians in southern India (compare Ninan and Yohannan ), but since South Indians traditionally do not have hereditary surnames, the southern Indian name was in most cases registered as such only after immigration of its bearers to the US.German: from a North German and Silesian variant of the personal name Johannes . This surname is also found in France (Alsace and Lorraine). Compare Yohn .
Dictionary of American Family Names © Patrick Hanks 2003, 2006.