Etymology and popularity of Jenny, Jennifer and related names

The names Jenny and Jennifer seem to have evolved separately, Jenny as a common pet name for Johanna, Jane or, especially in Scotland, Jannet, derived from the Gaelic Sìne, and originally pronounced Jinny, though the spelling pronunciation used today is now the norm, as is the tendency to attach it to Jennifer instead of the original.

Then they stood in the arched gate-house, breathing hard and looking at each other. Jane's mouth was open.

'Cheer up, Jenny,' said Robert - 'it won't last much longer.'

E Nesbitt, Five Children and It (1902)

Jenny was in existence at least as early as 1602 when William Shakespeare punned it with 'genitive' in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Jennifer is a derivative of the Celtic Gwenhwyvar (Guinevere), usually translated as "white wave" though "white skin" or "white shoulders" are also possible.

After the Norman conquest of 1066 Gwenhwyvar developed under the Anglo-Norman influence into Guenièvre, from which evolved Genéviève, Gwenore, Gonore, Ganor, Gaynore, Guanor, Wannour and Wannore. Jennifer developed in Cornwall, an area of England with strong Celtic connections, including many claims to Arthurian legend, as a separate development from Gwenhwyvar. The name only became fashionable in the rest of England and the world in the last hundred years, perhaps following the increased popular, artistic and literary interest in the Arthurian legend during the Victorian period when the British Empire was at its height.

Jensen is most likely a feminine variant of the Scandanavian Jens (John), and Jency a recent pet form of Jensen.

I've been unable to trace an etymology for Jenea, but it was in existance as early as 1796 in the American state of Georgia.

For a different spin on the meaning of Jen-names, have a look at the Kabalerian Philosophy site.

Popularity. (Data relate to England and Wales) Although no longer in the top ten girls' names, Jennifer is one of only seven names to have been in the top hundred every year between 1944 and 1994, the others being Sarah, Elizabeth, Catherine, Heather, Helen and Maria. The ten year rankings are:

199419841974 196419541944
Rank: 45
(1 in 193)

JenniferRank: 42
(1 in 214)
Rank: 11
(1 in 67)
Rank: 34
(1 in 147)
Rank: 45
(1 in 162)
Rank: 23
(1 in 109)
Rank: 18
(1 in 66)
Rank: 92
(1 in 536)

Source: First Names. The Definitive Guide to Popular Names in England and Wales 1944-1994, and in the Regions 1994 by Emma Merry with support from Kay Callaghan and Chris Cotton. HMSO, London. 1995

The Jencyclopaedia is copyright ©1996-current Simon Lamont.