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Classic Girls’ Names: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

I recently watched one of the seemingly countless Masterpiece Theater/BBC/theatrical versions of Jane Eyre, and I couldn’t help noticing how many times this particularly dreamy Rochester (Toby Stephens) repeated the heroine’s name, imbuing it each time with various shades of sweetness, sadness, passion, and more–and it made me fall in love with not only him but the name Jane.  And to start wondering what’s become of baby-name Jane, one of the most classic girls’ names.

For a long time Jane was so popular that she became the Generic American Girl’s Name, as in Jane Doe/John Doe and G.I. Jane/G.I. Joe and the everygirl in the Dick and Jane readers.  In 1935 there were 8,900 baby Janes born in this country, whereas in 2010, there were just a little over 800 in all of the U.S.

So why did Jane get shunted aside, while her male equivalents have survived and thrived?  Was it because—unlike Mary and Elizabeth—she didn’t have biblical roots? Was this strong, simple name a victim of over-smooshing—too many Maryjanes and Bettyjanes and Sarajanes for it to stand alone?  Was it mortally injured by the pejorative phrase Plain Jane?

We think Jane should reclaim her rightful place beside stalwarts James and John and Joseph.  And here’s why.

Jane has history

Jane has been around since Tudor times, a feminization of John, as were Jean and Joan and Johanna.  The first Jane of note in English history was Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, followed by the tragic nine-day Queen Lady Jane Grey.  In the U.S., Jane was a double-digit favorite from 1911 to 1965, though, surprisingly, she never got higher than 35.

Jane is a literary star

In addition to the novelist Jane Austen (who used her own name for characters in several of her books), there is, of course, Jane Eyre, as well as many other Janes in the novels of her sister Anne Brontë, and of George Eliot, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Henry James and Virginia Woolf.  Then there was Miss (Jane) Marple, Dick & Jane, Tarzan’s Jane, and vampire Jane in the Twilight series.  We could go on and on.

Jane has other wonderful real-life namesakes

To name just a few: Pulitzer Peace Prize-winning social worker Jane Addams, frontierswoman Calamity Jane (born Martha Jane), TV journalist Jane Pauley, primatologist Jane Goodall (that’s the young Jane Goodall in the illustration), the indomitable Jane Fonda and current fave Jane Lynch.

Jane rocks

Putting aside Jane’s Addiction and Janie’s Got a GunJane has been serenaded by many solo artists and groups, including Stevie Nicks and Barenaked Ladies (Jane), David Bowie, Cowboy Junkies, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (Sweet Jane), the Rolling Stones (Lady Jane)), Rod Stewart (Baby Jane), and –oops—Jane is a Groupie by Sly and the Family Stone—plus dozens more.

Jane is still a cool middle name

Although Jane hasn’t yet made inroads into the celebrisphere as a first name, there have been a number of starbabies middle-named Jane; among the ones we’ve spotted are an Isabelle and Isabella Jane, Olivia Jane, Savannah Jane, Alexandra Jane, Sarame Jane, Clementine Jane, Evan Jane, London Jane and (how Brontë can you get?) Charlotte Jane.

Jane has cool cognates

If you still think Jane is too plain, you can always exoticize it with one of its many interesting international variations:

Giovanna, Gianna–Italian

Ioanna—Greek

Ionna, Ivanna, Zhanna—Russian

Ivana, Ivanka, Janica—Czech

Jaana, Janne—Finnish

Jana—Polish, Czech

Jeanne, Jehane/Jehanne—French

Jenica—Romanian

Jensine—Scandinavian

JohannaGerman, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian

Juana, Juanita—Spanish

Ohanna—Armenian

Siân—Welsh

Sine, Siobhán, Sinéad –Gaelic.

Is there any downside to Jane?  Well, she might pose a problem for nickname obsessives—Janie, like Jeanie, Joanie and Junie–does smack of mid-century sitcomness.

Heads up!  Be sure to come back tomorrow to check out our predictions for Baby Names 2012!

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33 Responses to “Classic Girls’ Names: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

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LJandRL Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 4:18 am

Aww I love Jane, it’s my middle name but I think it’s much more beautiful as a first name. And I adore Janie too 🙂

bluedahlia Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 7:42 am

Jane is my middle name too, when i was a teen I wanted to add a Y like Jayne Mansfield as I thought that looked cooler. I cringe at that idea now! I love just Jane.

chelseamae Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 8:13 am

My boyfriend’s sister is named Jane, she is 24 or 25. I think the name is very sweet but a little too simple for my taste in first names. It surely has potential for a middle name though!

BrittanyM Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 9:40 am

Love Jane. I think it’s only a matter of time before this resurfaces big time.

keaton Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 10:03 am

I really really really love the name Jane, and not just as a middle name. I just found out I am pregnant with #2, and Jane is at the top of my list if it’s a girl. Love all the international cognates, too — my son is Leo, and it’s one of the reasons we chose that name for him.

I’m nickname-phobic in general, but I even love Janie.

i.heart.nerds Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 10:05 am

I do love Jane but like Anne I feel she is too short to use in a first spot for me.
I do love how she can pull a name together when placed in a middle name spot.
I do love Sinead and Siobhan though, but dh won’t consider a gaelic name in the first name spot.

Lola Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 10:10 am

My Mother was born Francesca Joan and changed it to Frances Jane in HS. Since she forbade me to ever use Frances/Francesca, I playy with both sexy little Joan & demure Jane.
I think I actually like Joan more than Jane but Jane figures pretty heavily as a second middle for me.

I like most of the feminine cognates of John as well as John but find both John & Jane a bit short and a tiny bit plain up front. I need them paired witth something spicier. Some of my favorite pairings:
Saffron Jane
Jane Henrietta
India Jane
John Porfirio
Wilder John

Those work better for me. Jane is sweet, but too simple for me.

Trustedwriter Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 10:39 am

I actually really like Jane! But sadly, our last name starts with J, and the alliteration is just too much for us. 🙁 Boo. I wouldn’t trade my last name for the world, but I love so many impossible J names!

tikicatt Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 10:56 am

My middle name is Jane too. I used to play with writing it Jhane after the designer Jhane Barnes. Since there were only 800 Janes last year maybe I will switch and go by my middle name.

@Lola – India Jane and Saffron are at the top of our list too. Just did not have Jane with Saffron. We have two more embryos and so hoping for girls. Can both have the middle name Jane?

kyemsma Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 11:32 am

I love the name Jane! So classic but simple. And I love that Jane can honor a James or John in the family.

Lola Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

@tikicatt: I don’t see why they can’t! I know plenty of boy sibsets both with Dad’s or Grandad’s first name as a middle, why not sisters Saffron Jane & India Jane! 😀

JennyBrynn Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 1:02 pm

It doesn’t hurt that Jayne from Firefly (which also has a Saffron) is such a fun character. For those not in the know, Jayne is a very tall, very male thug. And yet he wears his name with pride.

Saranel Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

My mom’s name is Jane. In high school she was referred to by Janie so many times she scrapped it all together and now goes exclusively by JJ

Ruthy Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I love the name Jane! It is my grandmother’s middle name as well as my older sister, so it would be a great way to honor them. Right now I really like the combo Vera Isabella Jane, but I would love to put it in first place if the right middle name came along.

Tristan Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

This article summarized all of the reasons why I love this name. My 3rd daughter is one of the 2010 babies with the first name, Jane. 🙂

Mischa Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Jane is attractive for me because it’s short, sweet and simple but certainly not plain. I think it’s a perfect example of the phrase: Less is MORE!

ZoeVictoria Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 5:16 pm

The dutch Johanna has some other forms too: Janneke and Janny.

theroadtohere Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I LOVE Jane, and Jane Grey and Jane Austen are just two of the reasons why I fell in love with it in the first place. I hope if/when my time comes I’ll be brave enough to use it. 🙂

@Saranel: I think JJ is such a cute nickname (because of the character on “Criminal Minds”, of course) and I’d totally go for alliteration if it meant I could use this.

ConsultantMeghan Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Thank you! I love Jane and it’s definitely not plain.

miloowen Says:

November 18th, 2011 at 5:34 am

This has been my mantra for the last three years: What happened to Jane? I’ve had students named Johnesia, Janna, Janae, Janessa, Jannah, Jonna, ad nauseam — what’s wrong with Jane, Joan, Jean, and Joanna? I love Jane and would use it if that were a possibility (however, my baby days are done). I also love Jennet/Jennie, an old Scottish form of Janet, another version of Jane. (I also had a student named Zhane.)
I love the short, old-fashioned names — Jane, Ann, May. They are simple in the best sense of the word.

chapitaism Says:

November 18th, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I loved this post!! My mom, my husband, and my husband’s grandpa have versions of this name. I have been thinking in how to honor them, and international versions would help overcome confusion between very close relatives.
@keaton: have you consider as an option Giovanni nn Gio?

Nyx Says:

November 18th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Love both Jane and Joan as a first name, and they both make a pretty sweet middle name too 🙂

jenagain Says:

November 20th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’ve long suspected that part of the appeal of the name Jennifer was in its nicknames, which sound similar to the long-popular Jean, Jane, and Joan and all their derivatives (I think the same is true of the “Ka-” names linking to “Katherine” and the “Al” names linking to Elizabeth). I know that a hundred years before I was born, my great-great grandmother Jane was known as Jennie, and the reason my name is Jennifer is because my dad liked Jennie.

KylaMac Says:

November 20th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

I love Jane. DH loves Jane. We really wanted to use it if our little one is a girl; however, all of the grandparents (and great-grandparents) vetoed the name as too “common” and too “plain”. Even some of my contemporaries told me it was too plain, too simple, or reminded them of “Having Fun with Dick and Jane”. I would guess those are the reasons it’s not commonly used today although I would predict that it would grow in some popularity soon with a lot of similar names seeming to re-emerge.

kelseaw Says:

December 23rd, 2011 at 9:41 am

I love the name Jane it is my best friends middle name. What I don’t understand is that people just all of a sudden forgot about the name Jane, and that might make people that have the name Jane mad sad or upset.

emilymaryjane Says:

December 23rd, 2011 at 10:17 pm

When you said how Bronte can you get I know a girl called Bronte Jane and I know a girl with a very Jane Austin name Austyn Jane.

I love Jane but my sister Miki has bagsed it for her daughter

mckennaberry Says:

December 25th, 2011 at 8:56 pm

all these names are great but one of my favrouts are valina its souns Just how its spelt

AvalonEmerald20 Says:

February 13th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I love Jane as a middle name especially with a long name in the first spot! I love that style of naming with 2/3 syllable first name and a 1 syllable middle name. Some names like Anne and Rose, to name a few seem too overused to me, while Jane seems to be forever young.

ajharco Says:

July 18th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Have to say I love the name Jane..since it’s my first name, I used to hate it but, it has been pretty nice growing up not ever knowing another one my age. I do have a very classic name my middle name is Elizabeth. Kudos to my Mom.

Classic Girls’ Names: All about Alice – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

August 29th, 2012 at 11:41 pm

[…] is unique among the body of traditional, classic girls’ names.  She’s more feminine and dainty than Mary and Helen, more substantive than Ann or Jane or Jean, […]

Plum Jo Says:

April 30th, 2013 at 9:58 pm

My darling daughter’s name, chosen because we couldn’t find one thing wrong with it. It’s just lovely.

Classic Girls' Names: All about Alice – Nameberry – Baby Name Blog Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

July 22nd, 2013 at 12:22 pm

[…] is unique among the body of traditional, classic girls’ names.  She’s more feminine and dainty than Mary and Helen, more substantive than Ann or Jane or Jean, […]

Catastroffy Says:

November 11th, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I love this name, but I unfortunately wouldn’t use it because it lacks that bit of eccentricity I like to see in names. I would love to meet plenty of little Janes, though! In first place, preferably – I don’t like it as a middle name.

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