Who was Jimson Johnson?

Who was Jimson Johnson?

My grandpa Miller knew him when he saw him. My dad saw him only once. All of my dad’s siblings have heard of him but none have ever met him.

Mr. Johnson was old enough to drive in the late 1920s and he traveled on the road between Willshire and Chatt at least once. It was on that day, long ago, when my grandfather and dad saw him, as they traveled that same road to Willshire.

Jimson Johnson may have even lived in the Willshire/Chatt area, although I have never found him in a census enumeration. But I know I never will find him there. There was a man by that name living in Ontario, Canada, at the beginning of the 20th century. But this was not our guy. [1]

Jimson is an unusual given name which cannot be found on various Meaning of Your Name websites. Going by naming patterns, the name could mean “son of Jim.” The Johnson surname often meant “son of John.” Was he the son of Jim or the son of John?

As far as I know we do not have any Johnson relatives, but growing up I heard the name Jimson Johnson many times and am very familiar with the name. Interesting, though, that his name is usually accompanied with a snicker. Who was he? Who was this Jimson Johnson?

There were other Johnson families in the area, like Ivan Johnson, who owned a garage in Chatt. But Jimson was not related to him or any of the other local Johnsons. I know this because Jimson Johnson came from nowhere and was related to no one around here.

Yes, there is a story behind this name. A story that shows what can happen when an frustrated parent is trapped in a car with an inquiring young child.

Carl Miller, father of Herb.

Carl Miller, father of Herb.

My grandpa Miller was not known for his patience. I believe that many of German heritage during that era were rather short-tempered. After all, they had a lot on their minds–farming, supporting a growing family, and the Great Depression. That could lead to a serious and stern disposition.

And there was my dad, the first son born to Carl and Gertrude Miller. He was about 3 years old at the time and was an inquisitive, talkative boy. My dad always went along to town with his father. Grandpa took him everywhere. The two of them, father and son, were in a car going to Willshire one day in the late 1920s.

The earliest photo I have of Herb Miller.

The earliest photo I have of Herb Miller.

As they drove to their destination my dad wanted to know who the person was in each and every car they met. He evidently thought his father knew the name of everyone on the road.

“Who is that?” “What is his name?” “Who is that?” “Who was that in that car?” Over and over and over again. During the whole ride to town and back. My dad was very persistent and my grandfather’s patience was nearly gone.

My dad’s father could not stand it any longer. He had heard enough questions. He had to do something to quiet his young son.

Grandpa did what he had to. He gave the driver of one car a name. Grandpa made up a name–Jimson Johnson. A name with a nice ring to it and fun for a child to say.

It was Jimson Johnson driving one of the cars they passed on the road to Willshire that day. Finally! Someone his father knew. Some person in a car had a name. My dad liked that.

It was actually very clever on my grandpa’s part. It satisfied my dad’s curiosity and when my dad got home he could not wait to tell his mother that they had seen Jimson Johnson that day.

Grandma wondered who in the world Jimson Johnson was and grandpa had to admit to her that he made up the name to quiet my dad.

Next Tuesday, 21 April 2015, will be the third anniversary of my dad’s passing. We miss him every day.

Herb Miller (1925-2014)

Herb Miller (1925-2012)


[1] 1901 Census of Canada, Ancestry.com index, accessed 16 April 2015. This index indicates Jimson Johnson was born in 1874 and resided in Bothwell, Ontario, in 1901.


    • Sondra Samples on April 18, 2015 at 7:11 am
    • Reply

    What a cute story! Jimson Johnson has a nice ring to it, and I can see how it would stick in a young kid’s vocabulary.

    1. Thanks, Sondra. The family has lots of good stories and I love hearing my aunts and uncles tell them.

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