What gave the baby name Janice a boost (twice)?

The book "Janice Meredith" (1899) by Paul Leicester Ford.
The book “Janice Meredith”

The name Janice returned to the U.S. baby name data (after a short absence) in 1899. The next year, It nearly tripled in usage:

  • 1901: 34 baby girls named Janice (rank: 525th}
  • 1900: 37 baby girls named Janice (rank: 572nd)
  • 1899: 13 baby girls named Janice (rank: 920th)
  • 1898: unlisted
  • 1897: unlisted

Data from the Social Security Death Index reveals an even steeper rise:

  • 1901: 125 people named Janice
  • 1900: 122 people named Janice
  • 1899: 56 people named Janice
  • 1898: none
  • 1897: 4 people named Janice

Why this sudden interest in the name Janice?

Because of the novel Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution by Paul Leicester Ford.

It was originally published serially in Collier’s Weekly (starting in late January, 1899). The same year, it was released as a standalone book. It went on to became the seventh-best selling novel of 1899.

Here’s how one contemporary reviewer described the story (which was set in colonial New Jersey):

Janice Meredith, a fair maiden of exceptional beauty, is the daughter of a testy, old Tory landowner. She is wooed by numerous gallants — the boorish son of a neighbouring landowner; the bond-servant who is really a man of noble birth; Lord Clowes, a British spy and afterwards commissary-general to H.M. forces; Joe Bagby, a rising young revolutionist, afterwards a member of Congress. Her story runs parallel with the varying fortunes of the two armies; sometimes one lover is in favour, sometimes another.

The name “Janice” wasn’t coined by the author, but he certainly brought it to people’s attention with Janice Meredith.

Speaking of “Janice Meredith,” many of the people named Janice around this time were also given the middle name Meredith. Some examples:

Lobby card for the movie "Janice Meredith" (1924)
Lobby card for “Janice Meredith

Roughly a generation later, Janice Meredith was made into a silent film starring actress Marion Davies. The motion picture critic for the New York Times was enthusiastic about the 2.5-hour movie:

No more brilliant achievement in ambitious motion pictures dealing with historical romances has ever been exhibited than Marion Davies’s latest production, “Janice Meredith,” which was presented last night before a notable and enthusiastic gathering in the Cosmopolitan Theatre. […] The audience was often thrilled, constantly interested and frequently amused during the projection of this photoplay, which has taken more than eight months to produce and has cost a fabulous sum.

The movie was released in December of 1924, and here’s how it affected the usage of the baby name Janice:

  • 1926: 1,467 baby girls named Janice (rank: 159th)
  • 1925: 1,510 baby girls named Janice (rank: 157th)
  • 1924: 1,175 baby girls named Janice (rank: 187th)
  • 1923: 787 baby girls named Janice (rank: 233rd)
  • 1922: 745 baby girls named Janice (rank: 239th)

Interestingly, neither the book nor the film had much influence on Meredith as a first name.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Janice? (Do you like it more or less than Meredith?)


[Latest update: April 2023]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.