What Everyone Named Jennifer Has In Common
The name's about as useful as being named “Hey, lady."
One of the first things I did in this life was to jump on the incredibly crowded bandwagon known as “Jennifer.” Actually, it was my parents who heaved me onto that bandwagon, literally kicking and screaming (it’s not undignified to do that if you’re an actual baby). “Hey, here’s an idea,” I imagine them brainstorming. “Let’s give her the same name as every other female infant born on planet Earth this year.”
Trendiness can be a nice thing, if we’re talking about shoes, or purses, or those dogs that live in purses (except I’m a cat person, and you don’t put a cat in a purse unless you want it shredded into retro ’70s fringe). When it comes to a name, though, being a fad is not so good. Generally speaking, your name is meant to be a unique personal identifier, a way to tell you apart from other people. When judged on that criteria, “Jennifer” is about as useful as being named “Hey, lady,” which, coincidentally, I am also sometimes called.
In my grade school class alone, we had Jennifer M., Jennifer D., Jennifer B., Jennifer W. and Jennifer E., otherwise known in schoolyard shorthand as pretty Jennifer, buck-toothed Jennifer, chunky Jennifer, Jennifer with nerdy glasses (me) and picks-her-nose Jennifer (possibly also me). Pretty soon, though, we’re all going to be Old Jennifer, and everyone will know it. Soon, before you even meet a person named Jennifer, you will know to expect a very golden girl. This is the downside of having a name that is an explosive trend for a specific period of time. It is like a vintage of wine — it dates you. “Jennifer” may as well be a name tag that says “Hello, I was born in the 1970s, or maybe the ’80s. But probably the ’70s.” I’m told my name was taken from a character named Jennifer in the 1970 movie Love Story. Spoiler alert: This character dies tragically (extra thanks for that, Mom and Dad!).
Apparently, a lot of people also thought it would be a smart move to name their offspring after a character with low survival prospects: Jennifer was the number 1 name that year, and for several years after. At some point, though, it dropped off the charts. Today, it has been squeezed out of even the top 100. It may as well be called Jen X. The good news of this is that, as a Jennifer, I did manage to outlive my ill-fated namesake. The bad news is that as we Jennifers move through the decades, our fad name has basically fixed us in time to a specific era, and is pretty much tracking us across our lifespans. It’s as though we were trapped by wildlife scientists, outfitted with Jennifer GPS collars and turned loose, with our names tattling on our every movement along the age continuum. Once upon a time, being named Jennifer — and especially Jen — was a dead giveaway for being annoyingly young. I am sure people rolled their eyes over being introduced to yet another obnoxiously youthful and clueless Jen. (For a while, “Jenn” was favored as an even younger version of the name, as if adding the extra “n” could somehow subtract from the number.) Today, Jennifers aren’t old, not exactly, but we’re getting there. I personally am an individual in my 40s. Snapchat filters genuinely frighten me, I accidentally text a lot about ducks, and I'm on the verge of being able to use hot flashes as an alternative heat source.
The hardest part for me is the terrifying way in which time has sped up. Years that once seemed to last … well, years, now go by at warp speed. I am now the lady who tells embarrassed-for-me kids how they’re “growing up too fast” and muses with friends from my youth that those days “seemed like yesterday.”
I have given this phenomenon some thought, and the “Over the Hill” cliché is surprisingly apt. I think of it like sledding — trudging up the hill is like the first half of life, and it sometimes feels like it’s taking forever. But once you’ve finished that slog and start coasting down the hill, you’re suddenly careening so fast you can barely keep up. That is like the second half of life. Also like sledding, the second half of life seems to come with lots of potential for whole-body soreness, slip-and-fall injuries, and wet pants.
Right now “Jennifer” is holding steady as a middle-aged name, but soon enough we’ll be totally bottlenecked in the nursing-home demographic. In 2019 it’s easy for us to forget that once upon a time, it was the bee’s knees for all the sassiest young women down at the dance hall to be named Barbara, Dorothy and Joan. Now, Barbara, Dorothy and Joan are trying to avoid hip fractures, telephone scams and restaurant dining after 4 p.m.
This is my future. It’s everyone’s future, of course, but as a Jennifer, my telltale name will precede me and rat me out. My only hope is that Jennifer will make a last-minute comeback as a recycled fad. This will mean that maybe, just maybe, a person who encounters my name before meeting me might not be sure whether they are dealing with an older lady or a baby. They will see the name Jennifer and think: This person is definitely wearing diapers, for one reason or the other. Let’s hope it’s a cute reason.
I can’t make any promises.