J Is For Jennifer, The Vanilla Of Names

Jennifer was the most popular girl's name from 1970 all the way to 1984, and its sheer ubiquity makes Jennifer seem wholesome, trustworthy — and a little run-of-the-mill.

It's actually all the way down to #84 in America now, but when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, Jennifer was everywhere. One commenter on The Baby Name Wizard says, "When you are a 'Jennifer' you will always be known by your first and last name, never just 'Jennifer'" — and indeed, I knew a lot of girls who were doomed to go through school as Jennifer L., Jennifer K., or Jennifer W. Perhaps it's inevitable that a name so common would pick up a girl-next-door vibe, and to me Jennifer immediately conjures up the image of a neat ponytail and a nonthreatening expression. Jennifer's pretty, but she isn't beautiful — and she certainly isn't slutty. She's nice, and she has good friends — she might be the kind of girl with two really close besties, but they're no mean-girl triumvirate. Jennifer will lend you an extra pencil if you need one, but she won't give you her kidney. She's not a Beth, after all. The best thing about being a Jennifer is that no one has anything bad to say about you. The worst thing is that they might get you mixed up with all the other girls who have your name.

Celebrity Jennifers fit the Jennifer stereotype to a T — and maybe they've helped define it. Diva J.Lo is something of an outlier, and Jennifer Connelly seems kind of icy, but smiley Jennifer Garner looks just like the kind of Jennifer G. who got picked a solid third in gym class seven years in a row. And would Jennifer Aniston be the all-American girl to Angelina Jolie's dangerous temptress if her name were, say, Isabel? I think not. Of course, perhaps Aniston's pleasant face and the lengths to which her publicists have gone to make her seem "relateable" have contributed to the image of a Jennifer as a comfortable, average girl — even if she was once married to Brad Pitt.

A common name does have its advantages. As I write this post, I've been thinking back to all the Jennifers I've known — giggly Jennifers, no-nonsense Jennifers, hilarious Jennifers, downright scary Jennifers, and of course a large assortment of Jennys, Jens, and Jenns. Everybody knows a Jennifer, so everybody probably has an opinion of what Jennifers are like — and some of these opinions are bound to be interesting. Having a vanilla name also gives you the opportunity for under-the-radar coolness. Mike Doughty has a pretty great song called "27 Jennifers" that goes, in part,

I went to school with 27 Jennifers,
16 Jenns, 10 Jennies, and then there was her.

When you share your name with 26 other people, you've got a shot at being her, the one who stands out from all the rest and makes an everyday name into something new and weird and awesome. Having a name that's cast from a common mold can be pretty cool, if you're the one to break it.

Jennifer [Wikipedia]
Jennifer [Baby Name Wizard]

Earlier: I Is For Isabel, Who's Snooty, But Earns It
H Is For Hillary, A Barrel Of Laughs
G Is For Grace - What's That Up Her Sleeve?
F Is For Francesca, And I Wish I Were Her
E Is For Emily, Who Seems Sweet (At First)
D Is For Danielle (Or Dani, Who's Apparently Kinda Judgey)
C Is For Courtney, Who's Too Cool For School
B is for Beth (And Barack! And Bandana!)
A Is For Anna: What My First Name Says About Me