Meaning: “white, smooth.”
Guinevere is an Old French form of the Welsh female name, Gwenhwyfar, which is composed of the elements, gwen, meaning, “white, blessed, fair, smooth” and hywfar meaning, “smooth, soft.”
The name came to the Western World’s attention through Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, which recounts Guinevere’s affair with Sir Lancelot. There are several different variations of the King Arthur myths, in some, Guinevere is barely mentioned and in others, she plays a signficant role, especially in that of Chrétien’s retelling.
Gwenhwyfar has been a common female name in Wales since at least the 11th-century, its Latinate cognate of Guinevere did not become common until the 19th-century, when European romanticism was in vogue.
Its Spanish and Italian cognates of Ginebra and Ginevra have always been common, but do not share the same etymology, rather, Guinevere was translated into Italian and Spanish as Ginevra due to similarity in sound, both of which are actually related to the Italian/Spanish word, ginepro, meaning, “juniper.”
Its Cornish form of Jennifer was a curiosity before the beginning of the 20th-century, it may have first caught the public’s attention in 1906 via George Bernard Shaw’s play, The Doctor’s Dilemma, in which it is the name of a lead character, however, Jennifer did not appear in the 1906 U.S. top 1000.
In fact, Jennifer first cracked the U.S. top 1000 in 1938, coming in as the 984th most popular female name. That same year, academy award winning actress, Jennifer Jones, had made it to the silver screen, but interestingly enough, she was still using her birth name, Phylis Lee Isley, she wasn’t credited as Jennifer Jones until 1943, the same year she won best actress for The Song of Bernadette.
In 1943, Jennifer had already moved up several hundred places, coming in as the 399th most popular female name. By 1956, Jennifer had hit the top 100, coming in as the 97th most popular female name.
It wasn’t until 1966 when she reached the top 10, coming in 10th place. Her popularity really sored between 1970 and 1984, coming in as the most popular female name for almost a decade and a half. It is interesting to note that in 1970, the first year when Jennifer hit # 1, Erich Segal’s romantic novel, Love Story, (in which the main female protoganist is named Jennifer, nicknamed Jenny), was a national best seller. That same year, the book was adapted into a movie.
Its sudden rise in popularity is still somewhat a mystery, as it was already in the top 10 by 1966, several years before Love Story was even written. It was already in the top 1000 by 1938, and Jennifer Jones did not go by her stage name until 1943, however, the actress may have been somewhat responsible for the name to rise several places in 1943, but the name did not become excessively popular until a good decade later.
Currently, Jennifer is the 84th most popular female name. In other countries, her rankings are as follows:
- # 52 Dzsenifer (Hungary, 2008)
- # 138 (the Netherlands, 2009)
- # 95 (Scotland, 2009)
Jennifer has also been used in French speaking countries, German speaking countries and in Spanish speaking countries.
Other forms of the name include:
- Guinevir Гуиневир (Belarusian)
- Jenifry/Jenniver (Cornish)
- Gaynor (English: Medieval)
- Jenna (English)
- Guenevere (Danish/Dutch/German/Norwegian/Swedish)
- Guenièvre (French)
- Xenebra (Galician)
- Dzsenna (Hungarian)
- Dzsenifer (Hungarian)
- Fionnbhárr (Irish-Gaelic)
- Ginevra (Italian)
- Guinhumara (Latin)
- Ginewra (Polish)
- Genebra (Portuguese)
- Jennel/Schenni (Ripoarisch)
- Ginebra (Spanish)
- Guenever (Swedish)
- Gwenhwyfar (Welsh)
A common short form of Guinevere is usually Gwen.
Common pet forms of Jennifer are Jeffy, Jenny, Jennie and Jen.
Notable bearers of Jennifer include American actresses: Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
- Erich Segal. Love Story. (Harper & Row) 1970.
- Ronan Coghlan (1991) Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends, Element Books.
- Noble, Peter. “The Character of Guinevere in the Arthurian Romances of Chrétien De Troyes.” The Modern Language Review 67.3 (1972): 524-535.