Jana counts as a cousin to at least two classic names. And lately, it’s back in the spotlight.
Thanks to Jana for requesting her name as our Baby Name of the Day.
Few names boast as much history as John. No surprise we find dozens upon dozens of variants. That includes feminine forms of the name. There’s good-girl Jane and saintly Joan; romantic Johannah and spunky Jessie. Travel the globe and there’s Zhanna and Sinead and Bevan and Juana, too. And that’s just a start.
John became Jan in plenty of languages, and so adding an ‘a’ to Jan creates this feminine form in plenty of languages. It occurs in German, Dutch, and Czech. Double the ‘n’ to Janna, and it’s found in Swedish and Finnish, too.
The name can share John’s meaning: God is gracious.
A few other possible origins exist.
Some connect the name to the Xana or Anjana, a mythical creature found in folklore from regions of Spain. They’re usually gorgeous creatures, dwelling in forests or fountains, though stories differ. In some tales, they guard treasure or aid travelers. In others, they place their children in the cradles of unsuspecting homes, stealing the babies that live there.
It’s also linked to:
- The Roman god Janus.
- The Roman goddess Diana. Some speculate that the word xana comes from the goddess’ name.
- Jehona, an Albanian name meaning echo.
- Jannah, the term the Quran uses to mean paradise.
- In some languages, it’s viewed as a form of Anna.
That’s a long list of possible – and mostly positive – ties.
Jana: 40s Favorite
This name might feel traditional elsewhere, but in the US, it debuted in the Top 1000 in the 1940s.
What explains the name’s rise? Well, Janet entered the US Top 100 back in 1928, and became a Top 25 favorite from the mid-1930s well into the 1950s. Janice wasn’t too far behind, with names like Janelle and Jeanette riding the same wave of popularity.
No surprise to find Jana in their company. After all, two-syllable, ends-with-a names for girls have always had their place. Though, interestingly, they were out of favor in the 1930s and 40s. Linda, Martha, Norma, Glenda, Wanda, and Paula appeared in the 1940’s Top 100, along with the still-current Sarah, Anna, and Laura. But more tailored sounds like Carol, Nancy, Judith, Susan, Karen, and yes, Janet, dominated the era.
Still, Jana rose steadily. By the 1960s, it hovered in the mid-200s.
Then came the advent of Jenna and Jennifer.
By the year 2006, it had left the rankings.
Jana: Short Hiatus
But it didn’t stay that way for long. By 2016, the name had returned.
Could it be thanks to reality television star Jana Duggar? She and her super-sized family first appeared on television back in 2004. Despite the spotlight, the years don’t quite track. Jana fell in use as the Duggar family rose to fame, and 2016 comes after their reality series was canceled. Now it’s her younger, married sisters who command most of the minutes of spin-off series, Counting On.
Instead, this name simply never fell very far. In 2000, 229 girls were given the name. In 2005, that number reached 252. And in 2010, it was 241. The 2016 count – 299 – represents a tiny uptick, just enough to put the name back in the rankings. It’s not exactly a trending choice – at least not yet.
Jana: Cross-Cultural Powerhouse
However, it could catch on. Unlike the 1940s, when it felt like an all-American alternative to chart-toppers like Janet and Janice, this time the name has a different vibe.
Like any short name that touches multiple cultures and languages, there’s potential for Jana to appeal to parents seeking to bridge different backgrounds.
It also feels every bit as short and straightforward as Emma or Ella. Plus, plenty of parents are all about the letter J, even as it falls from its former position as the most favorite first initial for children’s names. (Though J has long been more popular for boys.)
Still, it’s a nice stands-out, fits-in choice, one that reads as traditionalish, without being too tied to the past.
Readers, what do you think of Jana? What’s your favorite feminine form of John?
I pronounce Jana as ‘Yah-na’ is that the case in the USA? Even though there is an etymological link I don’t really compare it to Janet or Janice but more to Liliana.
I think Jana is almost always said with a J in the US, mostly because it came into use when Janet/Janice were so popular. So it felt like a successor name, and took on that pronunciation. Also, Jan is typically pronounced with a J here. I blame Jan Brady, Jan & Dean, and a host of other pop culture associations that cemented it in our brains this way! I knew a European Jan-pronounced-Yan who introduced himself as Yan, but accepted that he’d be Jan 99% of the time here.
You could absolutely make Yana/Yan stick here, but it would take effort.
I’m from the USA and my name is Jana. I introduce myself as Jana with the J sound. However, if I’m around Europeans I don’t correct or insist on the J sound over the Y sound. Also, my husband is Venezuelan and in Spanish the J sounds more like a Y. So I hear both ways often.
I loved this article!!! I had never heard of the mystical creatures xana/ anjanna of Spain before. That’s pretty cool!
I’ve always liked my name but never understood why so many people can’t pronounce it or understand it. I always had to correct teachers reading it as Jay-na, and at Starbucks and what not they always write Jenna or Janet. When I meet new people I have to say my name 2 or 3 times and I usually need to end up spelling it or ryhming it with Hannah, and Anna. I still love it and wouldn’t change it!