Originally a feminine form of John , from the Old French form Je(h)anne. Since the 17th century it has proved the most popular of the feminine forms of John, ahead of Joan and Jean . It now also commonly occurs as the second element in combinations such as Sarah-Jane. In Britain it is still one of the most frequent of all girls' names. It is not a royal name, but was borne by the tragic Lady Jane Grey ( 1537–54 ), who was unwillingly proclaimed queen in 1553 , deposed nine days later, and executed the following year. Seventy years earlier, the name had come into prominence as that of Jane Shore , mistress of King Edward IV and subsequently of Thomas Grey , 1st Marquess of Dorset, Lady Jane's grandfather. Jane Shore's tribulations in 1483 at the hands of Richard III , Edward's brother and successor, became the subject of popular ballads and plays, which may well have increased the currency of the name in the 16th century. A 19th-century influence was its use as the name of the central character in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre ( 1847 ). From 1932 to 1959 it was used as the name of a cheerful and scantily clad beauty whose adventures were chronicled in a strip cartoon in the Daily Mirror. It is also borne by the American film stars Jane Russell ( 1921–2011 ) and Jane Fonda ( b. 1937 ).
Dictionary of First Names © Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges 1990, 2003, 2006.