About Names: “Joan and Joni’s popularity almost the ‘same situation'”

A statue of Joan d’Arc near the Plaines d’Abraham of Quebec City (Photo by Jeangagnon, CC-BY-4.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 7th column, he looks at the history of the name Joan.

Both opera and pop fans could celebrate today.

Famed coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland (1926-2010) was born Nov. 7 in Sydney, Australia. Nine-time Grammy winner Joni Mitchell was born as Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, on Nov. 7, 1943.

Joan was the original English feminine form of John, brought to England by the Normans in 1066. By 1380, Joan ranked third for English girls.

When parish birth records began in the 1540s, Joan was No. 1. However, it was already going out of fashion with the upper classes, who preferred Jane. In the 1610s, Jane was No. 5 and Joan No. 6.

By the 19th century, Joan was rare. The 1850 United States census found 269,741 Janes and only 1,075 Joans out of 23 million residents. The 1851 British census found 626,280 Janes and 3,397 Joans out of almost 21 million.

In the 1890s, Joan began rising again, partly as an alternative to the already fashionable Jean, but also because of a huge upswing of interest in Joan of Arc (1412-1431), the French visionary who led armies against the English before being convicted of heresy and burned at the stake. Though the Catholic church overturned Joan’s heresy conviction in 1456, she was only beatified in 1909 and canonized a saint in 1920.

When Social Security’s yearly baby name lists start in 1880, Joan ranked 508th. In 1909, Joan was 303rd. In 1917, after Cecil B. DeMille’s film “Joan the Woman” starring Geraldine Farrar as Joan of Arc was released, it was 182nd.