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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Is the Name John Watson a Problem?

Rachel writes:
My husband is Nick and I'm Rachel. Our last name is Watson. We're having a boy on November 7 and have a name that we really love. It's John. The problem is that our son would share his name with the doctor in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sometimes it seems like a big deal, since there have been quite a few Sherlock Holmes films and TV shows lately and it's a well known character. Other times I just think that it's not like it's the name of an evil character or anything bad and just not important at all really.

We're planning to call him John and don't like Jonathan or Jack. The middle name will be Nicholas.

Oh, how interesting! I am moderately familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories (have read some recreationally, and also had to study a couple of them in school), so I'm definitely familiar with Watson, and he would be my first association if someone gave a child the first name Watson. But somehow I had not retained the information that Watson's first name was John; I think of him as "Watson," and that's it. And, as you say, Watson is a GOOD character, not a bad guy or anything.

It has been a long time since I read/studied a Sherlock Holmes story, however, and I haven't seen any of the recent movies or television shows, so my Sherlock Holmes knowledge is hardly what I'd call FRESH. Also, I am extremely biased, because I love the name John and I fervently want you to be able to use it.

So I think we need a poll, to let cooler heads prevail. As usual for this sort of situation, I want to divide the "it's a problem"/"it's not a problem" opinions into two groups: those who knew already that John was Watson's first name, and those who didn't. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Poll results for "The name John Watson" (512 votes total):

I knew Watson's first name; it's a problem - 35 votes (7%)
I knew Watson's first name; it's not a problem - 127 votes (25%)
I didn't know Watson's first name; it's a problem - 10 votes (2%)
I didn't know Watson's first name; it's not a problem - 334 votes (65%)
I can't decide - 6 votes (1%)


Sarah said...

I think the surname "Watson" is always going to be a little prone to eliciting that association, no matter what.

However, John is such a classic name that I don't think that the association is as "one note" and therefore not closely tied to just the one person, like if you were to use the name Sherlock or Elvis or Cher.

Also, like Swistle, I would say that most people wouldn't remember that Watson's first name is John. And even if they did, he's a good character and nothing to be ashamed of.

I thought of this when we were considering the name Graham for a boy. I thought, "Ooo, The Cracker. He's going to hear that forEVER." But the fact is that children grow up and these things stop being a big deal and if that's the WORST he ever got? Well, I could live with it. My husband, Peter, got the Pumpkin Eater taunt a lot, but eventually he'd just look at the kids and say, "Like I've never heard THAT before." and it was done.

Anyway, I love the name. Use it in good health.

Jessica said...

I also just think of him as "Watson" and didn't really know he had a first name. I guess I would have assumed he did, but I had no idea what it was. I think John Watson is just fine. He'll probably get Watson jokes, but for the last name only, not because his first name is John.

may said...

This makes me feel completely illiterate. My friends and I are quite well-read (except, apparently, not where Sherlock Holmes is concerned), and one of them is NAMED Jon Watson, and we've NEVER made the association. Wow. So I totally voted "Didn't know; not a problem." I think it's a terrific name. Good luck with the baby!

StephLove said...

I've read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories and I didn't remember Watson's first name. Assuming this was your husband's surname while growing up, do you get a lot of Watson jokes no matter what your first name is? I'm just curious?

Anonymous said...

I also had no idea John was Dr. Watson's first name. I just didn't remember ever being told what his first name was.

Anonymous said...

BBC's Sherlock is my favorite show--John Watson in this adaptation is just known as John.

Honestly, though, when I saw the title of this post I had to think for a moment before I figured out what the actual problem with. John is not an unusual name. Watson is not an unusual last name. I think you're totally fine.

Also it would be fun to read the books with your son, when he's older of course, and watch the movies and television adaptations and decide which John Watson you both like best, besides your son! ;)

Tara said...

I immediately jumped to Sherlock's buddy, and would do so if I met a kid with that name.

Leslie said...

I did know Watson's first name was John, and did immediately make the association. As someone posted above, the current BBC Sherlock series (which is quite good, by the way) has Watson going by John most of the time.

That said, it's still a positive association. He's a good character and a nice literary reference. I would have mixed feelings about using the name myself, but it wouldn't be totally off the table if it was a name I loved.

Best of luck! Let us know what you decide.

Sonia said...

Use it if you like it. I don't think the connection is a deal breaker. And if I'm remembering correctly, Watson had a different first name (Edward, maybe) in the earliest stories, and his war wound was in an entirely different place as well.

Susan said...

I'm very familiar with Sherlock Holmes and with the character Watson, but I've known him exclusively as "Watson" and I make no association with "John Watson." I think you're perfectly safe.

Furthermore, I've had good friends for the last 30 years who have the last name Watson, and I never once until this very hour made any in connection in my mind between their name and the character Watson. The name is too familiar just as a regular name for it to be automatically linked to that character. I mean, it would be different if your last name were Earp and you were considering "Wyatt."

I guessing you're safe, but I'll be quite influenced by the poll and the other comments. If a majority of people make an immediate leap to the character, then if I were you, I'd consider the implication. On the other hand ... doesn't everyone love Watson-the-character anyway?

Angela said...

I also had no idea Watson's first name was John.

Also, I LOVE the name John. You should use it!


Anonymous said...

I totally knew. But you're right that Sherlock's having a bit of a craze right now. Ask me five years ago, or five years from now and I probably would have had no clue.

In any case, I did have the association, but completely not a problem, and likely not even a permanent concern.

jerilyn said...

If either was a really uncommon name that I would say it's a problem but both are so common that I don't think it is. I am also a pusher of John as I WAS going to name my baby that until I married a man with a last name that rhymes with John. :( :( :( still sad.

Butterflyfish said...

Enormous ENORMOUS fan of the books.

I knew John was his first name, but my internal reaction is to the last name Watson (cool! a Watson! Had the same reaction to Emma Watson, the actress who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter series) and my reaction to would be no different your son's first name was James, Hamish, Julio, Artemis or John.

I say go with it!

Stephanie said...

I also didn't know Watson's first name was John, but I'm far from a Holmes expert. My inclinations is that neither of those names is so distinctive as to make this a deal breaker. I mean, Watson has lot's of associations for me, as does John, so the combination isn't that striking to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a big deal I didn't make the connection until you pointed it out. Especially as he gets older no one should make that connection Also that name is great it's a real strong name! I say go for it . Best if luck to you guys

Anonymous said...

Big Sherlock Holmes stories fan here, also a follower of the BBC series and the two Robert Downey Jr. movies. In addtion, there's a new tv show based on Sherlock Holmes being launched this fall, although in that case, I think 'Watson' is a woman. All of that to say, John Watson was an immediate connection to Sherlock Holmes for me, but not in a negative way at all. I think any fans of the stories/tv show/movies will think, 'cool', and anyone who is not deep into Sherlock won't notice.

Ginny said...

I'm a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, and have been for 20 years, so I knew Watson's first name was John, but if I met a John Watson it'd probably take me a minute to make the connection, because I don't think of "John" as the character's name. And it wouldn't be a big deal even when I did make the connection. I'd definitely use it!

liz said...

I went there, but I would have gone to Bell's assistant if you were going to name him Thomas.

Quite frankly, I think you should embrace it and name your son John.

liz said...

Also, there's James Watson who was a co-discoverer of DNA.

Sadie said...

I actually know a guy whose name is Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's brother)! Everyone just calls him Mike.

I say go for it!