Why are Scots called Jocks?

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Why are Scots called Jocks?

The word "Jock" is divisive in Scotland, it is simultaneously an insulting word, as well as a simple first name - depending on its context, "Jock" can be a serious slur or just a normal everyday word said without a second thought.

Jock is commonly used in Scotland as a nickname for John, James, or sometimes Jack, with the first recorded references in the 18th century. It's also used as a slang regional name for people in Scotland by others in the UK, in the same way "Paddy" is used for Irish people or "Scouser" for those from Liverpool... which again can have negative connotations depending on their use in a sentence.

The Collins online dictionary states Jock as: 

a slang word or term of address for a Scot.

Being a welcoming bunch to outsiders, Scots will often use the phrase "We're all Jock Tamson's bairns", basically meaning we are all the same and no better or worse than each other. This is often said to immigrants or people choosing to make their home in Scotland... to many, being Scottish is a state of mind rather than being linked to or born in Scotland.

Scottish people don't generally use Jock in everyday speech, but it can be a fairly common first name/nickname and definitely part of the national psyche.

Jock/Jacques French Connection?

It's possible that the word Jock is derived from "Jacques". Historically the Scots were allies with the French and had agreements to fight against the English. The "Jacques" name may have been corrupted to "Jock" over time.

Scottish Soldiers

In the British army, Jock is normally used to describe Scottish soldiers, especially those with a particular role. For example "Speak to Jock at the Naafi", even if the soldier's name isn't Jock/Jack/John etc. Scottish regiments such as Black Watch will also often refer to themselves as The Jocks.

Jock as a pejorative term

Jock can also be used as a derogatory insult for Scots and normally used in a patronising or insulting way... quite often with the rhyming slang "Jock, sweaty sock". In recent years Jock as an insult word has evolved into other linked terms such as "Jockistan" and the way we speak as "Jockanese"... very sad in this day and age that some people would be so insulting. Used in that way all Scots would find the word offensive... how much offence is up to the Scot but I definitely wouldn't go casting Jock insults in Glasgow!

Jock as an insult word is normally accompanied by the age-old stereotype that all Scots are tight/greedy and won't spend their money.

Tensions between Scotland and England are strong and can often lead to English people using Jock in an offensive way. Differences between the governments in Scotland and England can lead to anger, for example, Scotland receives free medical prescriptions whereas the English government decided against that... but anger is unfortunately directed at Scots.

On the flip side, Jock can be used in a nice way. For example "I met a great bunch of Jocks while I was on holiday". The context it is used matters greatly too if it is offensive or not, and although the statement above is meant in a nice way, it is still tinged with what some might think a little cheeky racism... but most Scots wouldn't care about how it was used in this instance.

Famous "Jocks"

There have been many famous people in history called Jock:

  • Jock Hutchison - PGA Championship golf winner
  • Jock Livingston - Australian cricket player
  • Jock Cameron - South African cricket player
  • Mark "Jock" Simpson - a famous comic illustrator who has worked on Batman, Superman and Wolverine comics.
  • Jock Stein - Scottish football player who played for Celtic and Llanelli Town.
  • Jock Campbell - a British army officer who received the Victoria Cross.
  • Jock Wilson - British serviceman, and D-day survivor.
  • Jock Bartley - An American rock guitarist.

Any link to the American usage of Jock?

As far as I'm aware there is no link to the American use of "Jock" which is normally a stereotype in North America for someone who is very athletic or interested in sports but not in more intellectual subjects. Normally they are portrayed as handsome and muscular but not very clever.


So there you have it, a rough overview of the J word! Should it be banned? Probably not, but when used in a derogatory way, I think it would definitely count as a racial slur against Scots. Context and usage is everything, but if in doubt, just call us Scots!

Related article: What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?

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9th of March 2024 @ 22:29:10

I think it's a shame that we have all become so self sensitive! As have the Welsh. Seems to me the only Brits that have no concerns about nicknames are the English. No one bats an eyelid if you refer to them as Geordie, Makem , Cuddy (Durham) Scouser, Cockney etc.

Alistair Kerr
7th of January 2023 @ 23:28:26

if Jock is not a racist term for the Scots as i am told by English people but a term of endearment is that the same as ,Paddys and Taffys? Why is there not one for English people?

Jeannie Daniels
31st of July 2022 @ 08:28:51

Hi Chris, I’m in Australia right now, and over here ‘jocks’ are men’s underpants!

24th of April 2022 @ 14:23:13

Hi Betty, Sorry to hear you have to put up with that, crazy really, keep sticking up for yourself!

24th of April 2022 @ 13:34:47

Hi Chris Very interesting!! I'm a Scot living in Italy who teaches English. I'm constantly insulted by English residents or visitors who ask "How can a Scot teach English?" or make stupid statements like "She shouldn't be teaching English as she's Scottish not English." ...not to mention the comments about my accent! I'm from Edinburgh. I've now become quite adept at replying in a way that soon puts their gas in a peep! Best wishes Betty Smith