Tag Archives: Jennifer


“It’s… JEN-TACULAR!” You drop your fork on your bacon and eggs and look up at the TV. There, good enough to eat, are Aniston, Lawrence, Lopez, and Garner. Well! This is a good way to start the day. Breakfast TV indeed! Positively jentacular.

Of course, such a scene might be most openly desirable to that sort of gent who is attracted to copious quantities of bacon and eggs. Well, yeah, and the Jennifers, too. But come on. We’re talking about breakfast here.

You didn’t know? Jentacular means ‘of, or relating to, breakfast’. It’s from Latin jentaculum ‘breakfast’, which in turn is derived from jentare, ‘eat breakfast’ (or, for the old-schoolers, ‘break fast’, since breakfast is from break fast, i.e., end the overnight fasting – that thing where you don’t eat because you’re asleep). Of course, in classical Latin, it’s IENTARE; in modern writing, we distinguish consonant i from vowel i by using the extended version of the letter, j, for the former, just as we distinguish the vowel form of v from the consonant form of v by writing the cursive form, u, for the former. We’ve made them official different letters, and they sound much more different in English. But in Latin jentare (or ientare, or IENTARE since half-uncials didn’t exist way back then) was pronounced “yen-ta-reh.”

Quite a difference between a yenta and a Jen, though, isn’t there? As much of a difference as there is between breakfast and breakfast. In some places, breakfast may be fish and soup; in others, it may be sugary processed grains soaked in low-fat milk (because somehow lots of sugar and little fat is better than little sugar and lots of fat?); in others (looking at you, England – please invite me over), it may be bacon, eggs, beans, and fried tomatoes – not gentle, but gentile. Breakfast changes over place and time.

And so does Jen, or rather Jenny. We know that Jenny is not new as a nickname in English; we see it in various usages even in the time of Shakespeare. But somehow in The Doctor’s Dilemma, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1906, there is this:

MRS. DUBEDAT. My name is Jennifer.

RIDGEON. A strange name.

MRS. DUBEDAT. Not in Cornwall. I am Cornish. It’s only what you call Guinevere.

How do we reconcile this? Is Dr. Ridgeon oddly onomastically naïve? No. In the time of Shakespeare and for centuries after, Jenny was short for Janet or, occasionally, Jane. If you’re wondering how Janet came to be Jenny, you may as well move on to how Richard became Dick, Edward became Ned and Ted, Robert became Bob, John became Jack, and Margaret became Peg. After those, Jenny seems quite obvious for Janet, doesn’t it?

But more obvious for Jennifer. Which is indeed from the same root at Guinevere, which means, roughly, ‘fair and soft’. OK, fair enough, once Jennifer is popular it naturally claims Jenny and Jen. How did Jennifer become such a popular name that Jen is practically the default name for North American females now? I guess a lot of people liked it… starting with those who saw The Doctor’s Dilemma, which – in spite of being one of those preachy, wordy Shavian thinkdramas (which are nonetheless great to act in) – was quite popular. I’m sure the scripted extreme attractiveness of Jennifer Dubedat (and thus of the actresses who played her, starting with Lillah McCarthy) didn’t hurt.

But. That’s a lot to digest before breakfast. I should go more gentle on the gut in what is, for many of my readers who open this first thing in the morning, still an antejentacular hour. I suggest something to settle the stomach. Sparkling wine, perhaps? Ah, that would be jentacular.

Jennifer, juniper

Maury’s uncle Red has a country place, and Maury wangled an invitation for a set of his friends to come up and spend the weekend. He intimated to me that he was bringing a new interest named Jennifer.

It was rather hot out when I arrived, so I quickly dropped my bags and changed into swim gear. I passed through the kitchen to grab a bevvy, but Maury said that he had some he was just fixing up that he would bring out shortly. So I made a beeline to the pool.

I was just setting down my towel when a fetching lady emerged through some ornamental heather near the pool’s edge. “Hello,” I said. “I’m James.”

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Gwen. In fact, I’m gwen into the pool.”

I paused. “Oh, you must be Maury’s friend. I thought your name was Jennifer. …Oh, wait.”

“Yes, that’s right,” she said. “Gwen as in short for Jennifer.”

“Because Jennifer is really a Cornish version of the name Guinevere,” I said. “Yes, I’ve seen Shaw’s Doctor’s Dilemma.”

“Yup,” she said. She quoted from the play: “‘My name is Jennifer.’ ‘A strange name.’ ‘Not in Cornwall. I am Cornish. It’s only what you call Guinevere.’ Well, thanks in part to Shaw, it’s not so strange anymore. Jennifer is now about as plane as Jane, so I went with the English version and then shortened it to Welsh roots.” This was true: Guienevere is from Welsh gwen “white, fair, blessed, holy” and hwyfar “smooth, soft”.

“You could have gone with Gaynor,” I said. Gaynor is a variant of Guinevere.

“Ew. Didn’t want to. ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor would be playing through my life. Anyway, it’s getting common in England, and over here sounds a bit too much like Gaylord.”

At this juncture Maury arrived with a pitcher of martinis and some glasses. “Ah,” said Gwen, “you’ve brought my namesake.”

Juniper and Jennifer aren’t really related,” Maury said.

“Oh, jenever know,” Gwen said, playing on Dutch for “gin”. “Yes, yes, I know it’s from Latin.”

“And from juniper,” I volunteered, “come genever and genièvre and ultimately gin.”

“Maury mentioned that,” Gwen said. “But I do like the similarity of sounds. Jennifer and juniper differ only in one vowel and one consonant, and those consonants are closely related.”

“For all that,” I said, “Jennifer has a bit more of a rustle as of heather, and juniper has a little more of a nip to it.”

“Meanwhile, Guinevere starts with a g and all those variants on juniper begin with the letter g,” Gwen said. “But Maury, dahling, can you give me mine with a twist? Since I’m by the pool.”

Maury obliged and handed Gwen a decent-sized martini with a twist of lemon peel. She held it up in toast: “Gin gin!” Then she downed the whole glass and danced a quick little twist. But her foot caught on my towel and she spun into the pool with a bit of a flip and a bit more of a splash.

“Well,” Maury observed as she resurfaced spluttering, “that was a double Gaynor.”

“She did say she was Gwen in,” I remarked.

“Ha,” said she. “I will survive.” She held up the martini glass that she was somehow still holding. “Arrr. Pirate Jenny wants a refill.”

I looked at Maury as if to say, “You’ve found a winner.” He just lifted an eyebrow and the jug and refilled her glass.