It’s the most common of names–and the most appealing too. There’s no name like Joe–from GI Joe to Trader Joe’s to Joe Schmo–the appeal to the everyday Joe. The Social Security Administration perennially lists “Joseph” as one of the Top 10 baby names for boys. If you combine that data with that fro Jose, Joe’s Hispanic equivalent, it’s the No.1 name for boys in America.
How did that happen, and why don’t restaurants say, “Eat at Melvin’s?”
Dan McQuiston, a marketing professor at Butler University, says he knows why American culture is infatuated with “Joe.”
It really became popular…during the Second World War,” says McQuiston. “Everything was Joe at that point. There were so many infantry people, and it was, ‘Hey, Joe,’ and all that. It was such a popular boy’s name, and it was easy to call everyone Joe. It grew from there.”
The biblical roots of the full name, Joseph, are clear. In the New Testament, Joseph is the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Old Testament, it’s the “Joseph of Egypt” narrative. The etymology of the name is the Hebrew Yosef, which translates as “He (God) will add,” according to several sources. It’s a reference to the biblical promise that the ancient Hebrews would prosper and multiply.
The Arabic equivalent, usually rendered in English as Yusuf or Yusef, is credited as a prophet’s name.
That’s a profound heritage for a name that is so commonplace today.
Average Joe should be Extraordinary Joe.
There’s “Joe Dirt,” the scurrilous 2001 movie starring David Spade, and “Meet Joe Black,” the 1998 film in which Joe Black, played by Brad Pitt, is really death itself.
Then there’s Joe Boxer shorts for guys, and sloppy Joe sandwiches–nothing inspiring there. Joey from the popular “Friends” TV show is getting his own program this fall. It’s called, uh, “Joey.”
Jimi Hendrix sang:
“Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
“Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
“Oh I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady
“You know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man.”
It’s downright sacreligious, but powerful.
Football fans will remember “Broadway Joe” Namath, the New York Jets’ ostentatious quarterback who guaranteed a victory against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
“Broadway Joseph” wouldn’t have worked.
The commercial uses of the name “Joe” are bountiful. There’s Bazooka Joe, the bubble gum comic guy, and Joe Camel, the controversial cigarette-puffing dromedary.
Joe’s Crab Shacks are owned by Landry Restaurants of Houston. Trader Joe’s (no known relation) also is cashing in on the popular, ubiquitous nature of the name. Trader Joe’s was founded in California by Joe Coulombe.
“He was a Joe, and this company was going to find food and beverages from all over the world,” says company spokeswoman Pat St. John.
Butler University’s McQuiston says it is just that common status of the name Joe that makes it successful commercially.
Well, whad’ya know, Joe?