Why is a Toilet Called a “John”?

Have you ever heard anybody calling the bathroom a John? You probably have.  However, even people who call it John usually don’t know what that derives from. There are several theories about why is it sometimes called John, but only one is correct.

Also, it doesn’t have to do anything with the type of toilet. Whether it is a composting toilet, a flushing toilet, a standard American toilet, or any other type, it is sometimes referred to as John. In this article, we will explain to you everything that you need to know about that.

Sir John Harrington

Sir John Harrington was one of 102 god-children of Queen Elisabeth I, who was known as “Saucy Godson.” He lived in the late 16th and early 17th century and was famous for writing risqué poetry, which often got him banished.

Besides poetry, he also devised a Britain’s first flushing toilet, known as “Ajax.” This term derived from the word “Jakes,” which was slang for what we know as the toilet.

Soon after that, he wrote one of his famous works, “A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: Metamorphosis of Ajax.” It was theoretically about his new invention, but in practice, it was about an “excrement” that was poisoning the state.

It got him banished from the court, due to its allusions to the Earl of Leicester. It’s interesting that the actual flushing toilet device did exist and was installed in his home. Moreover, one of those devices was made for Queen in 1596. It worked by pulling a cord that would release the water from the tank and flush away the waste.

The truth is that there are references to flushing toilets that date more than 3,500 thousand years. However, John Harrington’s invention was an innovation in Britain, and most people thought that he was the first one to invent a flushing toilet. That’s why the flushing toilet is sometimes called “John” even today.

If you are interested in how toilets changed history, be sure to check out this video. We don’t often think about toilets, although we use them daily. In the video, it is very well explained how significant impact the invention of the toilet has on our lives.

The First Toilet

The fact is that our lives would be a lot different without the toilet. The first toilets were much different than the ones that we use today, and they appeared a long time ago. Let’s see when the first toilet was created and what they looked like.

On a timeline of human existence, toilets appeared very recently. So, how did it all start? Well, at first, the ancient Romans invented the first sophisticated sewer systems and water supply. Their toilets were similar to the ones in countries in the Far East today.

It had a hole in the floor and no seats. It was over the sewer so that the waste could reach the drains immediately.  However, this was only available to rich people; most of the world’s population couldn’t enjoy this commodity.

Since there was no indoor plumbing and toilets were very rare, most people had to do the necessary stuff wherever they could. Common areas for that purpose were by the side of roads, behind the bush, or in a river.

Those were the first toilets that might remind of the ones we use today.  However, the very first flushing toilets were invented more than 3,500 years ago, as we already mentioned. They were much different and can’t compare to the flushing toilets of today.

But what about toilet paper? That is another luxury that we take for granted. Our lives would be much different without toilet paper. In the old times, anything handy was used for that purpose. Most people also used leaves but had to be aware of potential poisonous effects, like with ivy and oak trees.

The Legend About Sir Thomas Crapper

The First Toilet

One of the most famous legends when it comes to the first flushing toilet is the one about Sir Thomas Crapper. Maybe because his Lastname fits perfectly, and can easily fit lowbrow jokes, many people knew about him and thought that he was the inventor of the first toilet.

However, that is not true. Thomas Crapper was a plumber who founded, in that time famous, Thomas Crapper & Co. in London. Although he did not invent the toilet, he had a significant impact on increasing its popularity and also developed a few useful inventions, such as ballcock.

He was awarded nine patents related to plumbing innovations. Some of those included a “water closet.” However, the first actual water closet was created for Queen Elisabeth I by Sir John Harrington. That invention was much ahead of time and was considered ridiculous by society.

There is another legend about Sir Thomas Crapper that is untrue. Many people think that the word we have for feces has derived from his Lastname. However, the word “crap” has derived from the Middle English word “crappe,” which stands for the residue of rendered fat.

Some Facts

Some Facts

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting facts that you probably didn’t know.


Another term sometimes used for a toilet is “Loo.” However, it is mostly used in Britain and derives from French “Guardez l’eau,” which stands for “watch out for the water.” In medieval Europe, people used to throw contents of their chamber pots out of the window, right onto the streets.

Before they would throw the waste, they yelled: “Guardez l’eau!” to warn the nearby people. Over time, it became shortened at “Loo,” and finally, people begin to use that term for the toilet itself.


It is sporadic, but the toilet is sometimes also known as the “head.” It was a maritime euphemism. The fact is that the toilet on the marine ship was usually located at the front of the boat, known as “head.”  It was at the front, so the water that splashes on the front of the vessel could wipe away the waste.

The First Toilet on TV

The first toilet ever to appear on TV was on the pilot episode of Leave it to Beaver, back in 1957. It was titled “Captain Jack.” In this pilot episode, two guys hide a baby alligator in the toilet tank. However, it’s interesting that only the tank was filmed, and not the seat. It was done like that in order not to offend people.

The Term “Toilet”

Most people don’t know where the term “toilet” derived from. It comes from the French word “toilette,” which stands for “dressing room.” Also, the phrase toilette derived from the word “toile,” which stands for “cloth.” The toilet was the process of getting dressed and dated back in the 17th century.

However, a bit later in the 1800s in America, it began to be used both for the room where people get dressed and for the device that we know today as the toilet.

Movie Psycho

It is believed that the first time that the toilet is shown being flushed on TV was in movie Psycho, back in 1960. It appeared in the scene where a woman takes a shower and then gets stabbed to death.

The Term Restroom

The term “restroom” has American roots. It first appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and is derived from “rest,” which refers to refreshing one’s self. At the same time, the word restroom began to be used, and in Britain, the word “retiring room” was used among the upper class.

In The End

So, we have explained why is toilet called a John. There was Sir John Harrington, who wrote risqué poetry. In some of his works, he described a device similar to toilet while referring to the government.

Shortly after, he got banned from the court, although he really had a described device in this home, and very soon, made the same device for the queen.

Most people even nowadays think that he was the inventor of the first flushing toilet. However, although the primary form of a flushing toilet dates back to around 2600 BC, the one that he invented had a significant impact on people in Britain.

Also, don’t forget that toilets were mostly a privilege for the upper class and wealthy people. Most of the population in the world had to do the necessity outside, wherever they might find a little bit of privacy.

Instead of toilet paper, many other things were used. Some people used leaves, but in Japan, some people used a flat, wooden stick.

Do you know of some facts about toilets that we didn’t mention? Please let us know in the comments below.

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