Juniper took center stage way back on May 5, 2008, as this site’s very first Baby Name of the Day.
Since then, it’s gone from intriguing rarity to rising favorite.
Juniper: Nature Name
Plenty of us have great-grandmothers called Lily and Rose, so it’s not surprising to hear parents expanding with newer nature-inspired picks like Autumn and Skye.
A mix of vintage and modern choices appeal to parents now: Lily, Luna, Hazel, Willow, Skylar, Violet, Autumn, and Ruby all rank in the Top 100 as of 2017. Juniper fits right in.
The Latin juniperus refers to an evergreen. They’re found in Nevada and Africa and the Himalayas, the Arctic and Tibet and beyond.
Juniper: Friend of Francis
All of this might make Juniper feel like a modern innovation, akin to River. Except.
Way back in the day, Saint Francis had a companion known as Fra Ginepro – Brother Juniper. The thirteenth century monk is remembered for outrageous generosity, taking the clothes off his back and convincing others to give, too. It’s not clear if he was born with the name, or adopted it later in life.
In the eighteenth century, Miguel Jose Serra took the name Junipero when he joined the Franciscan order, in homage to Francis’ early follower. Serra is now considered a saint.
There’s also a fictional Br. Juniper in Thornton Wilder’s 1928 Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It’s been adapted as a movie more than once; in 2004, Gabriel Byrne played the part.
Juniper: da Vinci
Beyond the religious figures, Ginevra claims history as a given name. It’s the Italian form of Guinevere, and, of course, the full name of Ginny Weasley. But it’s also associated with ginepro, the Italian word for the plant.
In a famous Leonardo da Vinci portrait of Florentine aristocrat Ginevra de’ Benci, a juniper tree is seen behind her. A Renaissance-era symbol of chastity, the tree might reflect de’ Benci’s virtues, but it’s also a play on her name. The opposite side of the painting also features a sprig of ginepro, too. At least in Italian, there’s a long precedent for using htis as a feminine name.
So how did this name travel from Italy and a handful of male religious figures to the US?
For decades, it just plain didn’t.
Then in 1968, singer Donovan recorded a sweet single: “Jennifer Juniper.” Fun fact: the song was named for Jenny Boyd, sister-in-law to George Harrison, future wife to Mick Fleetwood, and apparently, the subject of the singer’s affections. Jenny ran a boutique named – wait for it – Juniper.
The next year, five girls received the name. By 1974, that number reached 23 births.
It helps that the similar-sounding Jennifer topped the popularity charts during the same era.
A second boost came in 1993, thanks to the Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson rom-com Benny and Joon. Joon was short for Juniper. That’s also true for the heroine of the Junie B. Jones series, which debuted in 1992 and wrapped up in 2013.
Beginning in the early 2000s, pop culture references abounded:
- The Cartoon Network’s The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, the animated tale of a tweenaged monster-fighter, debuted in 2005.
- Early dad blogger Jim started writing a blog about his daughter by the name way back in 2005, too.
- There’s a character in Percy Jackson and the Olympians who answers to the name, and a few others in young adult fiction.
- Reese Witherspoon wore it in 2012’s Mud.
Goddess name Juno and vintage charmer June also started attracting more attention in the same years, boosting all of the upbeat, summery June names.
Juniper: By the Numbers
By 2008, there were 107 girls given the name – a new peak. In 2011, that number reached 269, enough to push it into the US Top 1000. And by 2017, there were 1,033 newborn girls given the name, putting it just outside of the current Top 300.
It’s slowly gone from out-there rarity to increasingly mainstream favorite. With built-in nickname Junie, and a host of historical and cultural reference points for the name, it feels like a fresh, modern name that’s still rooted in the past. That’s exactly what plenty of parents are seeking today, so we can expect to hear even more of this energetic nature name in the future.
Do you like Juniper or Ginevra better?
First published on May 5, 2008, this post was revised on April 25, 2011. It was updated substantially and published again on February 27, 2019.