Tom and Jerry

Did this phrase precede the cartoon?

Yes and no. The phrase was around before the 1940 cartoon, and became an idiom. It may have influenced the cartoon name.

In particular, the cartoon name is not related to the phrase “Tommy and Jerry” used during both World Wars (see below).

The first usage is an 1821 novel called Life in London, but with the full title of Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. As the long title suggests, the novel told the story of Tom and Jerry and their adventures in Victorian London.

The book became a stage play entitled Tom and Jerry, or Life in London.

The phrase “Tom and Jerry” then became shorthand for young men prone to wild behavior. Bars were occasionally called “Tom and Jerry shops,” and there was a cocktail that also bore the name.

The Wikipedia page for the cartoon says:

“Tom and Jerry” was a commonplace phrase for youngsters indulging in riotous behaviour in 19th-century London

“Tom” is also a name for a male cat.

The characters weren’t named in the first cartoon. MGM then held an employee contest to name them. It’s assumed the winner produced the name from prior usage – the play, the novel, or the cocktail – but this has never been established.

Why I Looked It Up

I encountered the phrase in book about the Ypres Christmas truce of 1914 during World Wa r1.

As Christmas approached, Tommy and Jerry indulged in occasional and undeclared live-and-let-live cessations of fire.

I knew that “Jerry” was common slang for the Germans. There’s a Wikipedia page on slang for Germans, which says this:

The name Jerry was possibly derived from the [German helmet] introduced in 1916, which was said by British soldiers to resemble a chamber pot or Jeroboam. Alternatively, it may be a simple alteration of the word German.

As for “Tommy,” here’s one explanation:

Tommy Atkins or Thomas Atkins has been used as a generic name for a common British soldier for many years. The origin of the term is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743. A letter sent from Jamaica about a mutiny amongst the troops says “except for those from N. America ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly”.

So, it seems that the cartoon naming had nothing to do with the World War 1 usage.


Right after I wrote this, Snopes did an article called What is the Full Name of Jerry From “Tom and Jerry”?. Apparently, the Internet was in an uproar because someone claimed on Wikipedia that Jerry’s real name was “Jerome,” then someone changed it “Gerald.”

There was a lot of research, but no resolution other than a lack of evidence for anything other than “Jerry.”

This is item #461 in a sequence of 499 items.

You can use your left/right arrow keys to navigate