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On Monday evening, the Australian Football League held its presentation night, with the highest honour, the Brownlow Medal for the fairest and best player, going to Jobe Watson of Essendon. Jobe comes from a footballing family, with his father being the great Tim Watson, who played for Essendon for many years, and is now a popular media personality. He was Victorian Father of the Year in 1993. Jobe’s uncle Larry also played for Essendon, and unfortunately his cousin Jake was a promising young player until he unexpectedly died during a game. Football was the family business, Essendon the family firm.

Jobe was drafted to Essendon in 2002 under the father-son rule, which allows preferential recruiting access to sons of senior players. He was considered a bit chubby, too slow, and a poor kicker; his woes were compounded by a succession of injuries. It looked as if he was always to remain in the shadow of his famous father, until both his coach and his dad handed him the blunt advice that he had to step up to prove himself. After that, things turned around, and in 2009 he was named the club’s fairest and best and became team captain. 2012 was an outstanding season for Jobe, who not only won the Brownlow, but also the Lou Richards medal for most valuable player.

While rewards can come easily for those blessed with natural talent, others have to work at it, and it makes success all the sweeter when it is won. Now if only Jobe Watson’s struggling team could do better, as they didn’t even make the top eight for this season.

Jobe is an English surname, with a number of possible origins. The most obvious one is that it is based on the personal name Job. As Job was given rather a bad time in the Bible, it is theorised that that the surname could be based on an Old French nickname based on the name meaning “sad wretch”, given to someone who was especially unlucky (or perhaps made too much of his misfortunes). Another theory is that because one of Job’s many trials was being cursed with boils, that it was a nickname given to someone with boils or skin disfigurations. I would have thought that if this was the case, the surname would be a lot more common than it is!

Apart from the Biblical namesake, it could also be an occupational surname with the same meaning as Cooper, because a jobbe was a four-gallon jug. Oddly enough, it strikes me that Jobe and Cooper would sound quite good together as brothers. Further insulting theories are that it could have been a nickname for a heavy drinker, or for someone fat and round, like a big jug. Finally, it could be an occupational surname for someone who made jubes or jupes – a jupe was a loose woollen jacket or tunic for men. The word comes from the Spanish, and ultimately from Arabic.

You might wonder whatever happened to jupes: it is the basis for the word jumper, originally a loose woollen smock worn by labouring men, and standard garb for Australian miners during the Gold Rush era. We now use the word for a wool pullover, while in the United States it retained its old meaning of a woollen smock or pinafore dress, which became women and children’s clothing. Men’s tailored jackets still have jupe panels in them, while in France, the word for apron or skirt is jupe. So one way or another, most of us are still wearing jupes!

The Jobe surname, if not originating in these places, seems to have been prevalent from early on in the West Country areas of Cornwall and Devon, and in Sussex. Today, it is most common in the Tyneside area of England in the far north, but with plenty of Jobes still in Cornwall. Many Jobes who emigrated to Australia seem to be either from Cornwall or Northumberland, although it’s not a common surname.

I have been seeing quite a few baby boys in birth notices called Jobe lately, and the Brownlow Medal will probably give it some more publicity. Actually there’s a footballer in another code with the name, because Jobe Wheelhouse is a soccer player who is the captain of the Newcastle Jets.

Both Jobes are footballers, midfielders, team captains, and have a surname starting with W; interestingly, both have had injury problems, and turned their careers around, because Jobe Wheelhouse was likewise rated poorly in the beginning, but is now a very impressive player. It almost seems to echo the Biblical story rather spookily, as poor old Job was put through the wringer, but carried on like a trouper, and rewarded lavishly in the end.

I think this is quite an attractive name; it’s not flashy, but seems solid, honest, and hard-working. I actually like the sound of the name Job, but the miserable meaning of the name (“persecuted”), worrying story attached to the Biblical character, and  fact that it looks exactly like the word job (with sexual and scatological references) would definitely put me off using it.

Jobe seems to be a way of getting the same sound, while having a subtly different feel, and a range of possible meanings of which you are free to ignore the insulting ones. It’s an alternative to the popular Jacob, or to nickname Joe, and would also make a good middle name.