Why is "Jack" such a common name for fictional captains?

I suppose it sounds catchy, but why is “Captain Jack” such a common name in fiction?

Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Carribean
Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who
Captain Jack Aubrey from Master and Commander
and Captain Jack will get you high tonight… (Billy Joel)

not to mention dozens of other movies, books, minor characters and surf/beach/island related businesses all of which have nothing to do with any of them or each other?

I was thinking about this a little while ago and was going to ask the same question. It’s not just captains, but usually the main hero of a story. I noticed the because three big stories at one time has Jack as the main character:

Pirates of the Carribean

Then i quickly though of a couple more older examples: Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic, Harrison Ford from Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and Jack Crow from the book Armor.

I also noticed that John was a very popular name for heroes: John Connor from Terminator, John McClane from Die Hard, John Rambo. Quickly looking through IMDB at the major action stars gives us:

Eraser (John)
Last Action Hero (Jack)
Kindergarten Cop (John)
Commando (John)
Demolition Man (John)
Stargate (Jack)
Big Trouble In Little China (Jack)

So what gives? Are Jack and John just powerful sounding names?

John is one of the commonest male first names in the English-speaking world; Jack is a nickname for John. (Unlike in French, where Jean and Jacques are different names in their own right, viz. Jean-Jacques Rousseau.)

Or ‘John-John’ Kennedy. :stuck_out_tongue:

Jack the Giant-Killer
Clever Jack
Lots of fairy tale Jacks.
Jack the Ripper
Spring-Heeled Jack

There’s something iconic about the name.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that ‘John’ or ‘Jack’ actually just mean “man,” so when you need a generic name for someone in a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, Jack was what you chose. Hence:

Jack and the Beanstalk
Jack the Giant Killer
Jack Be Nimble
Jack and Jill
Little Jack Horner
Jack Spratt

I also think that, for contemporary attribution of names, “Captain Jack” just has a nice sound to it.

I don’t think so.

As for “Jack”:

I think it’s a popular name for action heroes because it has an aggressive sound, ending with a hard consonant.

Jacques Cousteau

Jack Knight was Starman, the everyman hero of the finest comic book series of all time.

Of course there is Jack Bauer, another great fictional hero.

And of course the ever artful Jack Dawkins

Even better when it’s pronounced “Cap’n Jack”.

There was, of course, also Kintpuash, a Modoc chief who was nicknamed ‘Captain Jack’ by the Americans. I don’t know if the name originated with him, but it’s the earliest example I can think of.

yeah, but when you want a real hero, you name him Chuck.

What about the “CEO” of Jack in the Box? Jack! :stuck_out_tongue:


It even sounds good with an added adjective:

“Cap’n Fat Jack” from Splash – “I’m going back for the little boat!”

In the hard-consonant ending it differs from its “official” version John. I’ve always liked the name John; when you have a rare and difficult surname as I do, having an everyday given name is no bad thing. Though, if that were my name, I might well go with “Jack” for everyday use, because it would go better with my last name.

GuanoLad’s assertion is not entirely wrong. There is an expression, “every man Jack”, meaning “each and every one of the guys”. I think it’s more British than American; I really don’t know if anyone says it here. The way I heard it used was in Pete Best’s memoir; when describing their Star-Club gig he said they got such and such amount for “every man jack”.

jack of all trades…

I wonder if that came from the old name Jack Tar used for Royal Navy sailors.