Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jennifer, Guinivere, Juniper, Ginevra

My daughter Anne sent me this YouTube link featuring Helen Mary, aka "Jenny" Boyd. I love the song, even though the lyrics are a bit sappy. Helen Mary, called Jenny by her older sister Pattie, the model, photographer, and ex-wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, inspired the song. Jenny was also a model in her own right, as the video above shows. It also reminded me of how much I disliked the Carnaby Street look, with the op-art dresses and overdone eye shadow. But I digress.
Donovan fell for Jenny during the 1968 trip to India with the Beatles. But like another famous Scottish poet, William Douglas, who wrote Annie Laurie, Donovan did not win his beloved. Jenny Boyd married Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood in 1970, divorced him, married and divorced him once again, before marrying antother drummer, Ian Wallace, formerly of King Crimson. She received a Ph.D in psychology from UCLA and co-authored a book on musicians and psychology called Musicians in Tune. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the above.)
But Wikipedia was wrong in its article about the song, "Jennifer Juniper," to wit: "The names "Jennifer" and "Juniper" are etymologically the same." But they clearly aren't--in fact, the Wikipedia articles about the names tell a different story.
"Jennifer" is Cornish in origin, and is related to the Old Welsh Gwenhwyfar (gwen: white, fair + hwyfar: smooth, soft). It's a cognate of Guinivere, the French form of the name. The name wasn't popular outside Cornwall until 1906, when George Bernard Shaw used the name for a character in his play, The Doctor's Dilemma:

RIDGEON. Thats a wonderful drawing. Why is it called Jennifer?
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.

It became extremely popular as a girls' name after Donovan's song came out, and even more so when the heroine of the book and movie Love Story was named Jennifer.

Juniper, on the other hand, comes from the Latin juniperus, from junio, (young) and parere (to produce), literally "youth producing," but meaning evergreen. Wikipedia mentions an Anglo-Saxon name, Jenefer, that derives from juniperus, put it's clear that the name Jennifer is from the Cornish.
Donovan wasn't the first to use the juniper tree in conjunction with a similar-sounding woman's name. Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Ginevra de' Benci (circa 1476), uses the juniper tree as a background. "Ginevra" is Italian for juniper. The painting now hangs in the National Gallery of
Art in Washington, D.C.

Helen Mary Boyd acquired the nickname "Jenny" because her of her sister Pattie's doll, also called Jenny. So what became the most popular girls' name during the 1970s earned its popularity in part because of a toy.


Charles Gramlich said...

Well, I'm afraid I'm not exactly the audience for this song. No screeching guitars.

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--I guess not. I've never been into the heavy metal sound, though my son has gotten me to appreciate some of it--Powerman 5000, for example.

Elizabeth said...

I love this song, however corny. I heard Donovan a couple of years ago here in Los Angeles performing a lot of his hits alongside the filmaker David Lynch. They were both promoting Lynch's non-profit organisation which is trying to bring meditation (namely, TM) into public schools. It was a very cool concert --

Anonymous said...

Ah, Donovan.

steve on the slow train said...

Elizabeth--Boy, the advantages of living in the Big City. When I was in London in 1971, I made a pligrimage to the Goodge Street Underground station and found I was in Soho.

Gerry--I'm glad we're in agreement this time.

Anonymous said...

Uh, hold on, just what did I agree to?