The origin of the word “jockey” goes back at least several centuries in Britain but as far as I can tell we don’t know the exact date of the origin. The word “jockey” is a derivation of the name Jack which was used as a general name for the common man i.e. the average working man perhaps. In Scotland, the peasants of centuries ago were given their version of the name Jack which was and is ‘Jock’.
The version of the name Jock for younger people in Scotland is or was ‘Jockie’. By the early 17th century this word became widely used to describe horse-dealers. These horse-handlers provided the source for horse riders in professional racing and by the late 17th century the word “jockey” came to be a description of any professional rider. This word has remained with us ever since.
The word has stuck because it is used in many other languages including French, Portuguese, Spanish and German. Dr. Desmond Morris provides us with a possible but perhaps far-fetched alternative which is this. He says that a Victorian expert insisted that the word ‘jockey’ is a modified version of the term “chukni”. This unfamiliar word was used to designate the formidable whips which gypsies usually carry and which are used by horse-traffickers under the name “jockey-whips”. It appears that this Victorian expert is alone in his idea because other scholars have described it as “mere fancy”.
Desmond Morris PhD also reminds us that the jockey’s cap with which we are all familiar “was borrowed from an ancient Roman design developed for charioteers. The charioteers’ version was made in bronze which protected the skull from damage and the eyes from the dazzling sun. Schoolboy caps in the UK are also based on this design.
My thanks to Dr. Desmond Morris and his book Horsewatching.
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