Sometimes the constant stream of exported American culture overpowers the vocabulary. Thanks to the explosion of posts on Reddit in the last month I know that Americans call a a carved pumpkin a "jack o'lantern". But I can't for the life of me remember what I used to call it.

Is there even a specific name for it in British English?

  • 1
    We always just called them "pumpkin lanterns".
    – Urbycoz
    Nov 18, 2011 at 14:27
  • Yeah. Maybe that's it. I think knowing that there's an American word for it made me thin there was an English one.
    – Joe
    Nov 18, 2011 at 14:28
  • 3
    John O' Lantern? And the Dutch would be Jan de Lantern?
    – JeffSahol
    Nov 18, 2011 at 15:46

4 Answers 4


Unfortunately it can be hard to find pumpkins in the UK at any time other than at Halloween, so I've always just said "pumpkin" because it doesn't tend to be ambiguous.

  • Yeah. I think you're right.
    – Joe
    Nov 18, 2011 at 16:07
  • Would you mark it as the answer please? :)
    – silves89
    Nov 21, 2011 at 8:39
  • In AmE it is common (more common than "jack o'lantern"?) to also call them just plain 'pumpkin' or maybe at most a 'carved pumpkin' (as you say in BrE). That is, the greeting card industry and cute children's books call them "jack o'lanterns" but most people don't.
    – Mitch
    Jan 12, 2012 at 21:16

A dictionary of English folklore by Jacqueline Simpson and Stephen Roud suggests says:

Jack o' Lantern: A local name for a Will-o'-the-Wisp, mainly in East Anglia and in southwest England; also spelled Jack-a-Lantern and Jacky Lantern

  • I'm not a native English speaker
    – rds
    Nov 18, 2011 at 14:28
  • 3
    That's not a carved pumpkin, but is probably where the American name for a carved pumpkin came from. And possibly carved vegetables might have been called Jack o'Lanterns in southwest England. Interesting. Nov 18, 2011 at 14:38

Actually, a Jack-o-lantern isn't the carved pumpkin itself. Jack-o-lantern, or Jack of the lantern, was actually a person in Irish folklore. Stingy Jack, as they called the man, invited the Devil to have a drink with him. Not wanting to pay for it himself, naturally, Jack asked the Devil to turn into a coin to pay for the drink, which the devil did. Jack then put him in his pocket next to a cross so he couldn't change back. Eventually, Jack let him out, making him promise to leave him alone for a year or so, and to not claim his soul if he died. So then a year's up, and he invites the Devil to pick fruit with him. The Devil, clearly either too thick or too hungover from last year's drink to see that this is a trap, climbs up the tree. Jack carved a cross in the trunk of the fruit tree so the Devil couldn't get out of it, and made him promise to leave him alone and not claim his soul for ten years, to which he again agrees. Jack dies at some point during this ten-year period. God didn't want him in Heaven, understandably, and the Devil couldn't take him, so be was banished to wander the earth forever in darkness, with only a carved turnip lantern for light. Every year, the Irish would carve turnips and potatoes to scare off Stingy Jack and other malevolent wandering spirits. When they came over here, they found pumpkins to be a lot sturdier, and so used those.

  • 2
    Hey, there's a special key on your keyboard that allows you to make a line feed, carriage return. You should try it.
    – Em1
    Oct 14, 2014 at 7:38
  • @Em1 In this modern age of electronic keyboards, typewriters and their carriages have largely fallen out of use. Many people know the key you speak of as "Enter" or "Return." It really is useful.
    – user867
    May 20, 2015 at 7:53

Mmm. Just found this after doing a bit of research on 'Halloween Lanterns'. That's what my family and friends, here in good old England, have always called these. I think you'll find that this is the most common name for these.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.