On being a Jennifer.

summer camp 2014

My mother wanted to name me Guinevere, but my father would not have it.

Mama was convinced that her family was descended from a line of Celtic royalty, that something had gone terribly amiss, and that it was her destiny to research and reclaim their heritage. I am exaggerating only very slightly. And I exaggerate not all her desire to give me the proper name of the famous Celtic queen. This quirky obsession was part of my mother’s charm, and her knowledge of Arthurian legend and Celtic history generally were considerable.

But Guinevere was a no-go, so they compromised on Jennifer, the modern adaptation of Guinevere and a name my mother hoped would not become too common.

In 1966, the year after I was born, the name Jennifer jumped into the top 10 most popular names for girls in the U.S. Since I was still a baby, my mother suggested to my father that perhaps my middle name, Scott, would be more useful for me in case I ever wanted to write a book or get a job or buy a house or do anything for which a woman’s name on the application might be a disadvantage. But I was already my father’s little J-bird, so Jennifer it was.

Then, BAM, in 1970 came Love Story, and all Jennifer hell broke loose. “At least they’ll all be younger than you,” my mother sighed, the memory of being surrounded by fellow kindergarten Bettys still fresh in her mind.

For 15 years, 1970 through 1984, Jennifer was the most popular name for girls born in the U.S., a reign second only to Mary’s in the 20th century. Since I was born five years ahead of the crowning, there was only one other Jennifer in my first grade class, a few in the grades ahead of us, and a good number that came up behind our advance through elementary school. In my grade there was also Jenny, whose real name was (is) Martha; but that’s a different matter entirely.

Through high school, college and my early 20s I was always on the lookout for fellow Jennifers, expecting to find one on every street corner but never meeting the wave my mother predicted. And even through that 15 year run, our name atop every name list, you could feel Emily and Madison and Jessica coming up fast right behind us.

In 1992 the name Jennifer dropped out of the top 10, and in 2009 it dropped from the top 100. Like the Bettys of my mother’s generation, it appears we’ve had our run.

Maybe I’m reading into it things that aren’t there, maybe it’s my iteration of my mother’s Celtic quest, but I feel a bit of magic solidarity whenever I encounter a sister Jennifer, or Jen or Jenny. I watch young Jennifer Lawrence take the media to task and think, “Yeah, that’s a Jennifer. Do not mess with us.” I read Jen Groeber’s great mama art blog and cherish that new, but strangely familiar branch on the Jennifer family tree. We were a blip, we Jennifers, but maybe one that will leave a good mark.

Happy week.


Food | Week of September 22, 2014

Green cabbageIn celebration of Jennifers everywhere, this week’s dinners will all come from Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: a Love Story, which a friend first shared with me a few weeks after I started posting weekly menus in January 2013. “Do you read DALS?” my friend sent by text. “What’s DALS?” I responded, and we went from there (proving, perhaps, that Jennifers really do all swim along a common current). Anyway, DALS often has recipes with ingredients we just don’t eat (kale), and sometimes the difference between a New York kitchen and a Southern kitchen are glaringly apparent to me. But I enjoy reading Jenny’s posts, and I am confident that the recipes are both a) her own, and b) well-tested. So here’s a sampling, taken from her What to Cook Tonight page; if you don’t like the five I’ve selected, I promise there are plenty more.Candlelight on the Farm

Chicken Chili with Corn and Black Beans

Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Pesto

Braised Pork in Adobo

Chile-Rubbed Chicken with Shredded Spinach

Waffle Iron Grilled Cheese (come on, you know you want to, no matter how old you are)



  1. So true, I have so many of you Jennifer friends. I was born in a large hospital in Michigan (peak Jennifer time of 1971) and when my mom surprisingly had twin girls, the nurse told her not to name either of us Jennifer…they already had seven Jennifers. I do love all of you Jennifers.


  2. Tear. I read the first line of your post in my e-mail and saved your (always gorgeous) post for the quiet of the night when I could finally read it in peace. Fellow Jennifer! And here I am, reading and thinking how I’ll chime in, “I had a softball team in 7th grade named Jenny!” (or at least more than half of the team), “I was named for Portrait of Jenny!” (tragic juvenile-type book that my brilliantly almost-illiterate father loved- read it, it’s sweet) instead of Love Story which they hadn’t read or seen, “I’ve named my daughters Reid and Cabot in an effort to NOT have them be “common” Jennifers!” (there were four Reeds in my Reid’s pre-K class, seriously. Go figure.)
    And than I came to your shout out. How fabulous are you? And that’s just the kind of lovely gift I talk about in my last post when I talk about how I am uplifted throughout the dankest days of motherhood by fellow mothers and dreamers and ivy-league circus performers, and now, may I add? Jennifers. So from the bottom of this Jennifer’s heart, thank you. You just made my night, maybe my month.


  3. To love your name and have it mean so much. How stellar. I appreciate this. My mother gave my sister and I middle names that went “together” – while we are not “super close” on a daily basis – we are still bound by those names. When we got married, to my father’s dismay and the dismay of the culture, we did not make our last name our middle. We kept the middles. It is one of the few ways we connect I think. 🙂


Comments are closed.