When my mom was pregnant with me, they asked my older sister what she thought about her sibling still growing in the womb.
“It’s a girl, and her name is Jennifer,” she insisted a few times.
Jennifer is a very common name for girls born in the 70s or 80s. Even in the 90s we had two, sometimes three, Jennifers in my class most years.
But my parents didn’t know where my sister had heard the name. There were no Jennifers on her favorite shows or in her class. Her best friend at the time was a “Valentina”.
Picked it up on the tail-end of its zeitgeist, maybe.
My parents couldn’t consider any other name after I was born.
My mother, pregnant with child number three, asked my sister who this baby was inside her:
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “God doesn’t talk to five-year-olds”
When I’m feeling poetic or wistful, sometimes I imagine there’s a reason my sister insisted on Jennifer, as if I carry the spirit of ancient Gwenivere (although I’ve always preferred Morganna) or Findabair, or Mrs. Dubedat, women whose beauty inspired violence and conflict even if they didn’t quite intend anything bad. White phantoms and juniper, all tied to this history of the name. I’ve always been pale, but prefer I don’t end up ghostly anytime soon. Juniper for gin, for cleansing, casting out evil, and plague. Too, my mother’s maiden name seems to have been a common surname for plague doctors in Europe—I wonder if they burned juniper, sent some smoke into the future, secretly flavoring the minds of progeny to come, tying us back, covertly, to moments and people long gone.
Not sure that feels right. I’m not an inspirational beauty. Not healing, either. No one is drunk on me.
Maybe I will need this name, have needed this name.
One day, will I meet a murderer? He’ll hold a gun to my head, but he’ll happen to see my name-tag.
“Jennifer?” He’ll drop the gun. “My sister’s name was Jennifer. I can’t kill you. Get out of here.”
One day, I’ll enter a contest. It will be between me and one other person.
“I guess I’ll choose Jennifer,” the judge might say. “I’ve always liked that name.”
There are so, so many Jennifers alive right now in America. I’ve heard: “You don’t seem like a Jennifer.” Jenny. Jen.Jennabel.Jennifer A., Jennifer M. Jennifer Mc. Jennifer, I don’t need to spell it for you, right?
In Korea, I was briefly Je-ni-puh, no f sounds, no r sounds at the end of syllables (each one has equal footing with the rest). In Indonesia, Jzenniferr, the J softening, the “ih” in the middle becoming “ee” and the ending r rolling over the tongue. This name, common enough to be known most places. To get its own flavor. McArdle, in comparison, just a jumble of letters to most people.
Perhaps my given name will do nothing for me, except remind me that I am altogether common but blessed
just the same.
Jennifer lives in New York State with her partner and an agent of chaos in the form of a spotted dog and works in animal conservation. Previously, she lived in Asia for six years. Some of her other work has appeared in the anthologies Whigmaleeries and Wives’ Tales, Lovecraft in a Time of Madness, and Mirror Mirror: A Compendium of Fractured Fairytales. You can follow her on Twitter @mcardlejeanne or Instagram @aerocrystal