I was told in a Latin class that the name Christopher has Greek roots that mean "one who carries Christ". I assume that the Latin connection here is fero, which is the verb to carry.

With that in mind, does the name Jennifer have a similar derivation? If so what would she be carrying?


4 Answers 4


No Jennifer is from

From a Cornish form of the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar (see GUINEVERE). This name has only been common outside of Cornwall since the beginning of the 20th century, after it was featured in George Bernard Shaw's play 'The Doctor's Dilemma' (1906).


From the Norman French form of the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar, composed of the elements gwen meaning "fair, white" and hwyfar meaning "smooth". In Arthurian legend she was the beautiful wife of King Arthur who engaged in an adulterous affair with Sir Lancelot. Her betrayal of her husband with Mordred prompted the battle of Camlann, which led to the deaths of both Mordred and Arthur.

The Cornish form of this name, Jennifer, has become popular in the English-speaking world.


Yes, the Latin fero is cognate to Greek phero, from which the name Christopher is derived. The name Jennifer, however, is from Welsh words meaning "white" and "smooth," so she is not carrying anything (Online Etymology Dictionary).


It's a perfect example of a false cognate pair that is created by a sort of linguistic homogenization. When we come across foreign words, we pronounce them with our own sounds, mapping a foreign sound to one natural to our own ear that seems close enough for our purposes. Unrelated sounds and syllables from unrelated languages might in this way each get mapped to a single native sound/syllable. In this way, we come to hear the sounds and syllables as related when they are not.

Mesoamerican languages, for instance, did not have a "v" sound. Consequently, when learning Spanish, the natives of Central America had a devil of time with the fairly common v sound and ended up usually pronouncing it as a b. The b sound is related to the v sound, so it wasn't a subtle shift. In consequence, very often to this day words like "votar" (to vote) get pronounced identically with words like "botar" (to throw out) giving rise to numerous puns. When native Spanish speakers from Latin America learn English, they are often heard saying things like "Thank you bery much," as a result. But "bery," and its false homophones "berry" and "bury" have no shared ancestry.

As a last point of interest, consider English spelling. It is so difficult precisely because speakers of English and the academic sources that safeguard the English language (Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, etc.) have made a general decision to preserve as best as possible the original spelling of the words in their original languages, making only occasional modifications to bring them into some kind of conventional conformity. So the Greek suffix -φορος is conventionally transliterated as -pher, whereas the ending of Gwenhwyfar gets transliterated as -fer and the ending of aquifer stays as the Romans wrote it: -fer. This makes our spelling a bear to get a handle of, but it also locks the secret of most words' origins right into the words themselves. That means, once one has understood a bit of Latin, Greek, some common Celtic endings and a bit of German, one can almost always discern the origins of the word just by looking at it. Of course, it also means that we have to spend years and years memorizing spelling word lists and still relying on spellchecker far more than we care to admit.

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    +1 Excellent essay that nicely explain the dilemma of consistent v. historical spelling. One question: I thought Spanish v was pronounced like b in Castilian as well, not as our v? Or is this about a more subtle difference? I can hear the Columbian guy pronouncin the v's in vivir like our v, but the Spaniard seems to be ponouncing it like our b: forvo.com/word/vivir/#es Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 18:49
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    Good ear! A reverse flow happens too. We commonly think of "Spain" Spanish as "older" than Latin American Spanish, and so on. When we look at the idea, we see it is absurd. Spain isn't older than Latin America, and its Spanish isn't either, even though it was spoken there first. LatAm Spanish branched from Castilian, and they both continue to develop alongside each other. The branching happened relatively late in their development and as reliable means of communication were becoming available. Things trendy in the New World spread home, and purists in the New World insist upon the older ways!
    – Ryan Haber
    Commented Jun 21, 2011 at 19:13
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    Just so. In fact, before the 16th century, it never would have been pronounced as a <b> at all. In a Greek class that I took in grad school, the prof explained how historical pronunciations are reconstructed from times that did not have sound recording. Guess how? The spelling errors! Ingenious, no? Spelling errors don't always, but usually tend to simplify spellings and to write words as they are spoken. Ten bucks says that the common Latin American misspellings surrounding v/b are entirely absent from before the 16th c.
    – Ryan Haber
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 23:17
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    And the v/b misspellings are common. As a non-native speaker, I learned Spanish from 20 years of regular study. I memorized the spellings of words as I learned them. Native speakers who are not well educated very often make these misspellings - not necessarily in very common or easy words, like vivir, though I've seen that, but certainly in difficult words. Sometimes, there is overcorrection as well, i.e., words that ought to be spelled with a b are spelled with a v. Kinda cool, huh?
    – Ryan Haber
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 23:21
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    Ah, that is very interesting. I have always wondered about the Spanish shift to b. The pronunciation of Ancient Greek is indeed quite difficult to trace back. Besides spelling errors, we also have prosody (how rhythm and the length of syllables worked in poetry) to inform us about it, and the comments of Greek grammarians on their own language. Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 2:39

The names Christopher and Jennifer are not etymologically related.

Jennifer is derived from the Welsh Gwenhwyfar, translated as "white wave", "white skin", or "white shoulders", depending on whom you ask.

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