Why is a Toilet Called a John?

Why Is a Toilet Called a JohnSome would ask for a toilet, others will call it bathroom, and you’ll never miss someone calling it a John. You might have wondered why is a toilet called a John. Some explain that the name refers to your little boys and also giving another name to refer to little girls. However, the truth of the matter is that the name refers to the man credited for the invention of the toilet, Sir John Harrington.

Who is John Harrington of Kelston?

John Harrington of Kelston was born on August 4, 1591 and was a master of art, a literary author, and a courtier. The invention of the flush toilet is credited to him thus the pet name John is given to toilets. He is best known for poetry and other writings. His best work is a political allegory entitled “A New Discourse of a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax” published in 1596.

The book was about his invention simply called Ajax taken from the word ‘jakes’ or ‘a jakes’ which is another word they have for a toilet. Because of this and other works, John Harrington fell out of favor with the royalty of the time. His best work, The Metamorphosis of Ajax, is more of a coded attack against the ills of the day, which really became popular in 1596.

The Invention of the Flush Toilet

Though the American euphemism for the flush toilet has cemented John Harrington’s name into our everyday language, he was really not the first to have invented one. We can more accurately say that he was the first to utilize one in Britain. The truth is the invention of the flush toilet didn’t come about during John Harrington’s lifetime.

As early as 26 BC, flush toilets have been in use among the peoples of the Indus Valley. Flush toilets have been in use for centuries in Knossos as early the 18th century BC. Like other inventions we currently enjoy, the creation of the flush toilet is not a one-time event. It took quite a while for such an invention to be developed.

Forerunner of a Modern Invention

Since we have no real idea who to credit with this invention, calling the toilet the John isn’t really that accurate. However, to be more politically correct, we can say that Harrington’s invention was a forerunner of the modern device we now enjoy. A great many have contributed to the development of the flush toilet like Thomas Twyford, Elvis Sloan, J. G. Jennings and others. Thus we must remember the many innovators of the time even as we head on to the John.

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