Note: This post is running a day earlier than planned to celebrate actress Jenna Fischer’s birthday, which is today. The timing is a complete coincidence. Happy 39th Birthday Jenna Fischer!
Jenna was one of our cross-generational names, names that seem imaginable on a large age group, but aren’t imaginable on everyone. For example, Allison is imaginable on contemporary moms and daughters, but isn’t imaginable on contemporary grandmothers.
Jenna stood out among these cross-generational names because Jenna isn’t only imaginable on a large age group; Jenna also has a transitional style. Jenna almost seems like a hybrid of 1970s mega-hit Jennifer, and 2000s hit Emma .
Parents most likely turned to Jenna as an alternative to Jennifer, which was the top girl name from 1970 to 1984, and in the top 100 for a 50+ year span from 1954 to 2008. 1984, the year Jenna catapulted into the top 55, also happens to the last year Jennifer ranked #1.
Jenna never got nearly as popular as Jennifer, but was hardly uncommon. Jenna was one of those names that almost could have qualified as a fad name. It saw a huge increase in rank in a single year. The name rose over 150 places in 1984 reaching #54 from its 1983 rank of #215.
Jenna’s dramatic increase also reflects another sign of a fad name. It’s rise might be pinpointed to a single pop culture event, the introduction of Jenna Wade, a fictional character played by Priscilla Presley on the night-time soap Dallas, from 1983 to 1988.
Based on Jenna’s beginnings, the name could have fallen as quickly as it climbed, but that didn’t happen. Jenna stayed in the top 100 from 1984 until 2006, an over 20 year reign. In 2011 (the most recent year data is available), Jenna still ranked in the top 200 at #170, but is now declining. If Jenna exhibited signs of a fad name almost 30 years ago, what explains its staying power?
While the answers aren’t certain, one possibility is Jenna’s timeless style. Two-syllable girl names ending in A have been around awhile and have been fashionable since the late 1990s. One of the most successful of these names, Emma, has been in the top 10 for the past decade, and is certainly no stranger to top 10 territory, also ranking in the top 10 during the late 19th century.
Combining the “Jen” prefix that was popular 40 years ago with the timeless a-ending, Jenna has an appeal that’s not surprising. And “Jen names” aren’t as dated as they may seem, they just go through different incarnations. For example, Genevieve, which peaked at #76 in 1914 and 1916, is slowly coming back after a decline, reaching #232 in 2011.
One famous Jenna is Jenna Fischer, of The Office fame. Jenna Fischer was born Regina Fischer, but Jenna does not seem out-of-place on the 39-year-old. Regardless, her birth name is the name more likely on someone her age.
The year the actress was born, 1974, there were nearly five times as many girls named Regina as Jenna. That year Regina was given to 2,585 newborn girls, placing it just outside the top 100 at #113. Jenna, by contrast, was given to 468 newborn girls that year placing it at #418.
Jenna has a usage history that is somewhat uncommon. Jenna wouldn’t qualify as a revival name such as Emma. Revival names were somewhat popular, became uncommon, and then saw a comeback.
Jenna most closely fits the characteristics of a modern name, but has more history and steady usage than other modern names. Modern names were almost obscure until the past 20-30 years and then suddenly became common. But unlike other modern names, Jenna doesn’t seem in danger of becoming time-stamped or linked to one or two decades, like Jennifer.
Jenna had never been in the top 1000 (qualifying it as obscure) until 1971. After entering the top 1000, Jenna gradually climbed the chart and then saw a sharp climb in 1984 to #54. And then something amazing happened. Jenna didn’t zoom into the top 20 or suddenly fall back into obscurity. Jenna stayed in the lower top 100 for over 20 years, never ranking higher than #45 in 2001.
A name with a historical usage like Jenna is Bianca. Like Jenna, Bianca had never been in the top 1000 until the early 1970s, but stayed at a respectable rank for a couple of decades. Bianca never became as popular as Jenna, but both names could be considered modern names that are morphing into modern classics. Now that both names are outside the top 100, they could be considered underused modern classics.
These are some of the best kinds of names, in my opinion. They aren’t terribly common, but aren’t rare either. They manage to fit-in, yet seem less likely to experience a surprising jump in popularity. These names have already weathered a dramatic popularity jump, and managed to be no worse for wear.
Readers: What do you think of Jenna?