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Sydney_Harbour_Bridge_from_the_airOn Saturday January 26 it will be Australia Day, so we are looking forward to the long weekend. In Sydney, there will be many events in and around the harbour, with one of the most popular the Ferrython, where the Sydney ferries race against each other. Chartering a boat to spend Australia Day on the harbour, basking in sunshine under blue skies, must be one of the most perfect ways to spend Australia Day in Sydney.

It’s also very appropriate, because the early history of Sydney is centred on its harbour. The size of Port Jackson, in which Sydney Harbour is located, was one of the main things which convinced the British to set up base in this area. You may recall that Captain Arthur Phillip rated Port Jackson as “the finest harbour in the world”.

I was always taught that Port Jackson was the largest natural harbour in the world, but it turns out that this is a matter of disagreement. In fact, what with the difficulties in deciding what is classed as a harbour, and whether you count size by square kilometres, length of coastline, or water volume, it doesn’t seem possible to declare any natural harbour the largest in the world – although Port Jackson must be one of the world’s largest, at least.

Sydneysiders still firmly believe that Port Jackson is the finest natural harbour in the world, and many that it is the world’s most beautiful – and as beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, this claim at least is difficult to dispute. I expect other cities feel the same way about their own harbours.

The first known European to come here was James Cook in 1770. Not being of a gushing nature, there is nothing in his ship’s log to indicate that he thought the harbour fine or beautiful, only recording that it “appeared to be a safe anchorage”.

He named it after Sir George Jackson, a fellow Yorkshireman, and Cook’s friend and patron. Jackson later got married and changed his surname to his wife’s, becoming Sir George Duckett. I can’t help but be thankful that this happened after the naming of Port Jackson, as Port Duckett doesn’t have quite the same ring to it – although like the island of Nantucket, it would no doubt be a boon to the authors of limericks.

Jackson is an English and Scottish surname meaning “son of Jack“, which must be one of the most straightforward name meanings. The surname Jackson can be found from the 14th century onwards, and was historically most common in the north of England.

Jackson was first used as a personal name in the early 17th century, and in the United States, may sometimes have been given in honour of the seventh president, Andrew “Stonewall” Jackson – before he was president, he was a national hero for defending New Orleans from the British. He had such a reputation for toughness  that his nickname was “Old Hickory”.

Although there are many examples of men named Jackson in Australian records, the name did not begin charting in Australia until the 1970s – around the time American teen idols, The Jackson 5, became a big hit. Jackson climbed steeply to make the Top 100 by the 1990s, and peaked in the early 2000s at #29. Since then it has gently declined in popularity, and was #40 in NSW for 2011.

Early results from 2012 name data in the ACT and Victoria suggest that Jackson is falling as the variant spelling Jaxon takes off. This spelling (also a legitimate surname), takes advantage of the fashionable X, while suggesting Jax as the nickname, rather than Jack.

While Jackson may not be quite as popular as it once was, this name makes a great one for a boy born on Australia Day, and is much more subtle than last year’s suggestion.

POLL RESULT: Jackson received an approval rating of 62%. More than half of people (56%) said the name Jackson was fine and handsome, although 22% believed it was too popular, and 17% saw it as boring. Nobody preferred the spelling Jaxon, or thought of Jackson as a patriotic name.