Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 21st column, he looks at the history of the name Jane.
Jane is an English feminine form of John, a biblical name from the Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” In 1066, England’s Norman invaders brought two Old French feminine forms of John with them. Johanne became Joan, while Jehanne became Jane. In medieval times, Jane was rare, while Joan was the third-most common name in England. Around 1450, Jane started to rise, especially among the upper classes.
Throughout the 19th century, Jane appealed to the British more than to Americans. In 1911, the census of England and Wales included 780,514 Janes. The 1910 American census had 191,665, though then the United States had 92 million residents to England and Wales’ 36 million.
Jane’s lowest point came in 2006 at rank 477. Surprisingly, since then it’s risen, three decades before a 1940s name normally would. That may partly be linked to the increasing prominence of English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). In 2007, the films “Becoming Jane Austen” (starring Anne Hathaway as the author) and “The Jane Austen Book Club” both appeared.