Fear of Jennifer

Feb 14th 2006

When parents talk about wanting an unusual name for their baby, the phrase you hear most often is: "I don't want her to be one of three Jennifers in her class." The name Jennifer has become a symbol of over-popularity, the emblem of a conformist age. It's the name that today's parents are all running away from. The anti-Jen sentiment has even been memorialized in a baby name guide, "Beyond Jennifer and Jason." As one Jennifer explained in a comment to this blog:

"I think a big part of the current search for unique names comes from a backlash against our parents. We grew up in a world where our classrooms were filled with Jennifers and Stephanies and Amys..."

It might be time we cut our parents some slack. (On names, anyway. Other lingering resentments you may harbor are beyond my jurisdiction.) Every generation has its popular names...were Jennifer and friends really such a conformist crowd?

Compare the accused to some of the trendy names of the 1910s:

Not only did Dorothy and her posse achieve the same level of popularity, but they sustained it longer -- doubling the number of Dorothys you'd actually meet on the street. And Dorothy wasn't even a #1 name. You know that huge peak Jennifer reached in the '70s? Mary reached far greater heights of popularity, decade after decade. It's not only the 1910s, eitcher. Toss Jennifer in with the top names of the 1950s, and it's just one of the crowd:

What's more, Jennifer wasn't truly the #1 name in America during its own reign. It was surpassed every single year by the boy's name Michael -- which kept up that pace for more than 40 years. Think hard about the number of Mikes you've ever heard of vs. the number of Jens, and its probably no contest.

So why do we pick on Jennifer? Perhaps because it rose and fell so quickly, leaving that date-stamped quality. (Michael is still the #2 boy's name, while Jennifer is at #38 for girls and falling fast.) Or maybe because it was the last of its breed -- the true across-the-board hit. Today's top names are only a fraction as popular as Jen and Mike were back in the '70s. But that doesn't necessarily mean the parents of the '70s were lockstep conformists...it's the parents of the 2000s who are lockstep individualists.


By Jennifer! (not verified)
March 29, 2006 5:06 PM

When my parents named me Jennifer in 1971, they thought it was an original name! I picked Zachary and Benjamin for my sons because at the time,not a lot of parents were naming their kids Zachary or Benjamin, and now there are lots of Zachary's and Benjamin's! I personally believe that a lot of times, parents try to pick something traditional but less used -- and all the other parents are trying to do the same thing! Maybe the original thing to do would be to use the overused name that no one wants to use LOL!

By Jennifer Lynn (not verified)
March 31, 2006 10:52 PM

I was born a Jenny-Lynn in 74 and growing up there were 6 Jennifers inmy class. I was Jenny 3, how pathetic. However, while I disliked the commonality of my name, I always appreciated the fact that my parents didn't give me some kooky made up name or something with a stupid spelling. As a 31 year old, I like having a name that makes me sound like an adult and not a tattoo artist.

By Tara (not verified)
April 11, 2006 6:07 AM

My name is Tara. I have met a few others. I was always glad I didn't have a trendy name, but I don't have a name that is crazy either. I hated it when I was younger, but that is who I am now and could not image being called anything else. I was named after my mother's room mate in college. I am obcessed with names. I think people that are named the same have very similar personalities. I am so obcessed when I got married I was afraid to change my name. I thought my last name might not havematch the rest. There for I said it to make sure it sounded good and wrote it in many styles to make sure it looked good. It worked out good.

By Tara (not verified)
April 11, 2006 6:21 AM

My husband and I are trying to conceive. Narturally, I bring up the subject of names. We decided not to name our child after family for the fear of hurting someones feelings of being left out. This also prevents the child being named after someone that it may not even get to know. I believe everyone should have there own name. We both agree we don't want to go with a trendy name or something crazy. We are hitting the middle ground. We both also realize no matter what someone, somewhere will probably have that same name. Anyway, I am very outgoing and I think this is why I like odd names. He is more down to Earth and I think this is why he likes normal names. This causes problems when picking something. This is why he gets to pick the first name and I can pick the middle name. Our child can that the best of both worlds. He picks names like Nicolas, Douglas, Airel and Kimberly. I pick names like Talan, Drake, Tayla and Haven. Of course, I am not pregant yet and we haven't settled on anything.

By Jen B (not verified)
April 15, 2006 6:28 PM

I was one of 8 Jennifers in elementary-high school, and it wasn't until middle school that I finally decided to go by Jen. Honestly, it never bothered me that I had to distinguish myself, and it's almost comforting to share a name with others. However, my situation is a bit different.

I'm South Asian, and other than my sister Ashley (I named her..my mom wanted Emma, and 9 years ago I thought Emma sounded hopelessly old...what a difference now), I know no other full South Asians with such an obviously Caucasian name. (Sonya, Monica, etc don't count in my book...there's some of that and it comes from South Asian origin names.). I think my parents (correctly) picked a super-conformist name to help me conform, and I loved it.

What's hilarious is when foreigners hear my name and go "Jennifer...like Jennifer Lopez! hahaha". When I was growing up, it was "Like Jennifer Capriati!". To my South Asian relatives, Jennifer was an unusual enough name to comment on.

By Jen B (not verified)
April 15, 2006 6:30 PM

By the way, I love "Sophie" as a baby name, after my mother, Sufia, and after the idea of wisdom. Although I'm perfectly fine being a Jennifer, I'm rather distressed that Sophie's so popular! I think it may be because I picked the name Sophie for reasons other than "it sounds nice". People don't mind being conformist when they MEAN to be conformist, I think. For example, I want James as a boy's name..and I don't care that it's a popular name. It "sounds nice".

By Kate (not verified)
April 17, 2006 6:17 PM

Born in South Wales, UK in late 1971, my mother's family were horrified at her choice to call me "Kate". Compared to all the Lisas, Karens, Michelles, Debbies, Traceys etc of the time it was an unheard of, old-fashioned name, and I was the only Kate in a High school of nearly 2,000 pupils. who would know that within a few years it would become so popular in the UK and I would find myself meeting no end of Kates after I left school.

I am now expecting my first baby at 34 and plan to call him/her Arthur (boy) or Rose (girl)which are family names, because I hate made-up names and names like Emily Joshua, Jack and Jessica which, although pretty, are used to death here in the UK. I also don't like using names from other cultures - it seems odd to use, say, an Irish or Scottish name when you have no Irish or Scottish in you!

By KF (not verified)
April 19, 2006 10:40 AM

I don't know about Emma in the USA but here in the UK its horrendously popular, there are millions and millions of really "Chavvy" (Chav = White Trash) teenage girls called "Emma". Its pretty much lost its appeal for most parents of taste I'm afraid!

By Michaela Darling (not verified)
April 20, 2006 3:08 AM

I was named Michaela after my father (Michael). Up until about 5-7 years ago, no one had ever heard of the name. I was either called Michael A (as if A was my middle inital) or things like "Michelle-ah" or Mishaylia". It got to he point, growing up, that I didn't bother correcting the teachers - my classmates did it for me! Today, however, Mikayla is a very popular name and after years of never hearing it unless it was spoken to me, I have to say the first time I heard "Mikayla, don't touch that!" when I was out clothes shopping really freaked me out. It was a mother talking to her 3-year-old, but it took me a minute to figure that out. Now I get people trying to spell my name Mikayla or Makayla or Makaila. I have to tell them, no it is M-I-C-H-A-E-L-A. I get replies of, "that's an unusual spelling of it," to which I reply, "No.... That's the TRADITIONAL spelling of it." Really, I always enjoyed having an unusual, unique name and I am irritated now that I have correct people all the time with spelling.

By Miriam (not verified)
April 23, 2006 2:37 PM

I too cannot stand the made up ridiculous sounding names that are the current trend. I am named after an aunt and I can assure you there weren't too many 'Miriam's in central Indiana in the 1970's. My husband and I do not have children yet but we plan on combining family names. A daughter will be Kathryn Louise and a son will be Thomas Gerald. I am all in favor of sticking with traditional family names.

By Kate (not verified)
April 23, 2006 6:30 PM

Someone official once spelled my name "Catherine" so I corrected her and told her it was spelt with a "K". She crossed out "Catherine" and wrote "Kathryn".

No i patiently told her, "it K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E."

"Oh thats unusual" she said "Like the "C" version but with a K".

Apparently, in her universe "Catherine" and "Kathryn" are the only two spellings of the name.

Hmmmm. Should I say "ignorance"?

By Tina (not verified)
April 24, 2006 10:59 PM

I think my parents chose a great name for me-Tina, and I have a South Asian background as well.

By Jennifer (not verified)
April 26, 2006 4:25 PM

I am tired of my name (Jennifer),because
it is very common.It means "Fair Lady" Oh well my parents had their intentions.
When I have my daughter soon her name will be Jenica meaning "God is gracious"
I only hope that she will appreciate where the idea for her name came from.

By Mary Ellen (not verified)
May 1, 2006 1:36 PM

My parents gave me a double name "Mary Ellen." I was born in 81 and I have not met very many with the same name. I've always liked the name in that it's common but still unique sounding.

By John (not verified)
May 5, 2006 7:56 AM

*****An excellent read is Freakonomics- Chapter 6 on names: It also predicts the most popular names of 2015 based on growing trends..
Girls: Annika, Ansley, Ava, Avery, Aviva, Clementine, Eleanor, Ella, Emma, Fiona, Flannery, Grace, Isabel, Kate, Lara, Linden, Maeve, Marie-Claire, Maya, Philippa, Phoebe, Quinn, Sophie, Waverly
Boys: Aidan, Aldo, Anderson, Ansel, Asher, Beckett, Carter, Cooper, Finnegan, Harper, Jackson, Johan, Keyon, Liam, Maximilian, McGregor, Oliver, Reagan, Sander, Sumner, Will

Thought #2: With the internet and hundreds of tv channels, we have opportunities to meet far more people than people did in the 1920s. Hence, we're more likely to run into the same name over and over when you meet a thousand people today.. In the past, you'd have a much smaller social circle. We are in fact meeting more people and therefore striving harder to find a name which is unique. The spikes in names rise faster, taper off and fall faster- as the name flies across the country.

By Sherri (not verified)
May 8, 2006 10:09 PM

I agree with several of you. Bear in mind that you might get to choose the name, but it's the kid who has to live with it. Granted, you can't know in advance whether they'd love or hate a weird/normal name (there's a place for both kinds), but if it sounds stupid for an adult, or is a family name like Homer or Gertrude, have mercy and use it for a middle name with something normal first. That way at least they have a choice which they'd prefer to use. And PLEASE consider nicknames!!! Not the common ones. The mean ones kids give. My first name rhymes with Scary and my middle name Louise was once mispronounced as La Weasel and stuck. I hated it so much!! My son is Duncan (hubby insisted) but it's infuriating to silence the "Duncan Donuts" and even "Drunken" that people think up. That kind of abuse can make someone hate their name for a more compelling reason than just conformity.
P.S. Apple is certainly unusual here, but hey, we use other plant names and Apple's a heck of a lot prettier than Olive (no offense)

By jen (not verified)
May 12, 2006 11:15 AM

Would you believe that as a 1977 Jennifer, I didn't know any other Jennifers until my teens and hated my name because it was so unusual?!
Guess it's just not as common in the UK. My childhood was full of Sarahs, Helens and Claires.

By another Jennifer (not verified)
May 13, 2006 1:07 AM

I'm a Jennifer married to a Jason. I know our parents thought they were picking "fresh" names for us, but... wow. We've tried to pick actual existing names for our children that are also uncommon -- we've got an Athena, a Griffin and a Phoenix. Griffin is the most common of our kids' names but we chose it because we liked it. I like a lot of classic names, too, but when I hear people talking about Apple as a ridiculous name when SO MANY people are naming their daughters Emily, I cringe. You bring this lovely, unique person into the world who will never be equalled in all of eternity, and the best thing you can think to call her is "Emily?"
I'm not at all a fan of creative spelling, but if a parent chooses an unusual name I can understand than more than choosing something off the top 10 list. (Of course, I'm a hypocrite because I do love some of those top 10 names myself!)

By steph (not verified)
May 16, 2006 12:45 PM

If anyone finds different spellings a problem, especially when looking for personalized gifts, try www.justforme.com Our daughter (Julee) got a great CD with her name sung in all the songs, and they were able to give us our unique spelling. Has anyone else heard this thing ?? Its great !

By Colleen (not verified)
May 16, 2006 8:28 PM

We named our first son Owen. Old school but sounds fresh and is not tricked up like Jaden, Caden etc. Not too many Owens out there at the moment.
I like old school names and we are thinking of the name Audrey for a girl if we are lucky to have one next.

By Christiana (not verified)
May 23, 2006 4:11 PM

I've liked names all my life - my favorite book in Jr High was a name dictionary from the school library. So, it's frustrating to me to really like certain names I think of as classics and have them be the most popular (Isabella, Sophia and Olivia were on my list of names for my daughter-to-be). I don't want to pick an incredibly strange name (My favorites growing up were Chandelay and Angili) because I don't want my child to stand out TOO much. I chose Sophia after a character in a book (not the Da Vinci Code) and Isabella and Olivia for TV characters, but I had no idea they would take off like they have. Back to the drawing board.
It's amsuing to me that authors create characters (on TV, movies, books) with a "fresh" name for an adult and then little kids are named it over and over (anyone know a Phoebe before Friends began?) As you saw my list earlier, if I didn't pay attention to naming trends, my kids would have very popular names. Parents often hear a name once or twice and like it not knowing the trends.

By Julie (not verified)
May 28, 2006 3:46 AM

Im an Aussie, born 1959, as a julie louise I never suffered too many others with the same name in my classes. My siblings were Linda, peter, suzanne nadia and david. Only Nadia went through school without ever knowing someone of the same name. My hubby hates his name "Maitland" but only because it WAS unusual, there is no fun in people writing your name in the surname section all the time LOL.

I have two sons, names I just liked Ryan John in 1981 and Ross william in 1988. Ross went all through school with no other Ross an any class. Had I had daughters Id thought of Samantha jade (not so keen on it now) when pregnant with my fistborn however by 1988 was leaning towards "Kate elizabeth". I think people who use stupid strange names like Apple, Rumer, scott, tiger lily are cruel beyound belief.

By Kelsey (not verified)
May 28, 2006 3:24 PM

Julie: You consider Scott a "stupid, strange name"? ReallY?

It sounds perfectly normal to me.

By julie (not verified)
June 3, 2006 5:30 AM

Kelsey, that was meant to be scout, demi moore and bruce willis's daughters name. Got no problems with Scott as a name :-)

By krista kate (not verified)
June 6, 2006 7:24 PM

phoebe cates. duh. way before friends.

By Alexis (not verified)
July 16, 2006 1:37 AM

Troubles with names? I was born 1966 in Switzerland. My parents wanted to name me 'Aliosha' the russian variation of Alex or Alexander. It turned out to not be possible to name me that way ("it will cause him troubles, wearing a russian name") so my parents decided to choose the greek version 'Alexis' a name that I really like. Unfortunately since 'Denver Clan' appeared o TV, everybody is thinking, Alexis is FEMALE, but it isn't (female would be ALEXIA or simply ALEXI).. well, since then I mainly get my mail adressed to MRS. Alexis E. ... I can write back and ask them to change to MR. Alexis E., next time I'd get it again as MRS. lol.
Well, guess they never heard about the known and legendary Alexis' like Alexis Sorbas or Alexis Korner!
Anyway, Alexis is a beautiful male name :-)

By Mark (not verified)
September 11, 2006 4:13 PM

Thanks Steph for saying you liked the CD. So many people are coming to us because of the unique spellings we offer. I'm glad we can help out. If anyone else out there has a unique baby name or spelling, please contact me at mark@justforme.com and I'll add it to our list. (plus it helps support the Hospital for Sick Kids, so everyone wins !)

By mima (not verified)
November 2, 2006 4:03 AM

I always find myself running into Nicoles and Emmas. I think parents want to give their children unique names is because it gets annoying when there are 8 kids in the year with the same name-there were 3 Emmas in my year 9 class.

Also, they don't want the name to be decade-dated. I personally associate Linda with 1960s-70s, Ashley and Britney with 80s, Kaitlyn, Olivia and Jacob with 90s, and McKynzee and Madison with 2000s.

One day when "old", obscure names like Mildred and Agnes become popular again, classicists will be advocating "lovely old-fashioned names" like Kaedyn, Matddycsyynne, Nevaeh and Mc'Kynnzeigh.

Or tryndeighism could just go further, until little girls end up called Slaedyn and Blaedyr, and boys will be called Knifer or Killer.

I tried to stay clear of trrye'Ndeigh names like McKaedyn as well as popular current names that will just feel "2000's" in 40 years time, so we went with variations on classic names. I called my kids:

By Kaleeta (not verified)
January 9, 2007 8:51 PM

I like the name ShadaquishiAsia

By lilly (not verified)
January 25, 2007 9:59 AM

my daughter is called fee

By Kaitlyn (not verified)
March 31, 2007 7:46 PM

I have only jsut began reading the posts at the top of the page but felt compelled to voice my opinion.
I was born in 1988 and my parents decided on the name Kaitlyn. Spelt with a K as opposed to C becasue it is "stronger" and lYn after my mother.
This name as i am sure many of you know has been on the most popular baby name list since at least 1997. No matter what anyone says i will always adore my name and its popularity. it does not bother me in the least to have other people with the same name as me. if anything it make me like it more, i love the fact that i share my name with so many girls and that my spelling is not incredibly "unique". I find it hard to understand why parents would ever want to put their child through any sort of ridicule for having such a weird name? Having to spell it out letter by letter every single time and getting the response "oh now thats a new one" would be embarressing to me. I find it insulting to read the posts from people who hate the "conformers". don't feel bad for me

By Stephanie (not verified)
April 23, 2007 7:20 PM

I don't have any children yet, but my husband and I are planning to try to conceive within the next year. Because I'm very indecisive, we've been trying to decide on names for our future children now, or at least narrow down our choices.

My name, Stephanie, was very popular (though my mom chose it because she thought it was different in 1979), and I've known a few other Stephanies, but I still like my name because I think it's pretty.

However, when choosing names for my own children, I want to pick ones that are less common. I once considered Sophia, Olivia, and Madison, but now they are so common (especially Madison) that I have no desire to choose those names anymore. I still think they're beautiful names, just not for me.

My husband really likes Zoe, as do I, but I'm afraid it will become one of those date-stamped names by the time our daughter is in school. We also like Nadia, Charlotte, Willa, and Mira for girls, and Desmond, Elias, Miles, Elijah, and Milo for a boy. It will be a tough decision

By Rachel (not verified)
July 5, 2007 4:35 PM

I love the name Aidan Korey for a boy
and for girls I love the name Makaila Renee (Kaily for short) and Audrey Raina. What do you think?

By Justine (not verified)
April 6, 2008 8:20 AM

annually replaces to the manufacturer the provisions which he had consumed, all excise duty, to the fish-curers. The excise duty upon Scotch

By Phoebe Barkan (not verified)
June 11, 2008 5:10 PM

I was born 4 years before friends began...and I've met three others born pre-friends as well. As far as I've noticed, my name still isn't one you run across very often. (Unless you're in Britain, where it -and my older sister's name, Charlotte-are way more popular.) In any case, it's unpopular enough that people still have trouble spelling it. I like that I haven't had to share my name in school (or anywhere else), but my friends with popular names (Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, Jen, Jen, Jen...) don't really seemed bothered by the popularity of their names. Also, I'd imagine it gives you a little more anonymity. In high school, "Phoebe" was always me. And besides, if kids feel annoyed with the popularity of their names, they end up taking nicknames or going by their last names. (This is especially true with boys; there were tens of Johns and Michaels in school with me, but you'd never know it- almost all of them went by something else.) I guess if you have an awkward last name, though, it might be a mistake to name your child an extremely popular name.

By Sally (not verified)
August 12, 2008 1:16 PM

I was born in 1968 so I grew up with lots of Jennifers, Michelles, Karens, Lisas, and Lindas. I was not overly fond of being a Sally, because it sounded so country-fried and down-home to me. Still, it could have been worse; my friends named Jennifer lamented how many Jens, Jennies, Jennys, Jenns, there were. One went so far as to spell her name "Jennq" (the q being silent, of course).

For my own children, I decided to use classic names that were never overly popular. I didn't want people to be able to guess their age from their names. So they are Naomi, Rebecca and Sarah. I resisted the urge to spell Rebecca "Rebekah," even though that is the more traditional (if less common) spelling, because I felt it would look like the cheesy creative spellings so popular now. Sarah is probably the most popular name of the three of them, but it's been a consistently popular name for several hundred years so I don't think anyone will be able to pinpoint her date of birth based upon it.

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