Why Are There So Many Jacintas?

By John Mercury October 13, 2023

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter in Melbourne, Australia.

Jacinda Ardern was a prime minister. Jacinta Allan is a state premier. Jacinda Barrett is an actress and model. Jacinta Coleman competed in road cycling at the Olympics. Jacinta John and Jacinta Stapleton are actresses. Jacinta Ruru is a professor of law, and Jacinta Price is a senator.

All of these Jacindas and Jacintas come from Australia and New Zealand, and almost all were born in the 1970s.

In a recent column, Jacinta Parsons, a radio host and writer in Melbourne, described the weirdness of sharing a relatively uncommon name with so many famous folk.

As a young person, she writes, “I was the only Jacinta. It made me feel like Madonna, who didn’t need a surname clarification, either.” The sudden rise to fame of a handful of other high-profile Jacintas and Jacindas, she said, had lately come as something of a shock.

Jacinta Fintan, who lives in the Australian state of New South Wales and was born in 1975, grew up not particularly liking her unusual name, in a sea of Marys, Nicoles and Amys. “No one could really spell it in 1980s white Australia,” she said.

The name is originally Spanish or Portuguese and means “hyacinth.” It is particularly popular in Latin American countries, as well as in Spain and Portugal. (Ms. Fintan, like Ms. Ardern, Ms. Barrett and most other prominent holders of the name, does not have Spanish or Portuguese ancestry.)

And while it is somewhat rare in Australia and New Zealand, it is almost unheard-of in most other Anglophone countries, according to official data — with the exception of Ireland, where it spiked to the 53rd most popular girls’ name in 1967, with 141 children given the name.

Before about 1960, according to newspaper archives, the only Jacintas or Jacindas in the New Zealand press were horses or the occasional boat. And then, all of sudden, the baby announcements begin.

In the 1970s, about 26 percent of Australians and around 16 percent of New Zealanders identified as Catholic, according to census data from both countries.

Ms. Fintan’s mother, who is in her late 60s, was among them. As a child, she recently told her daughter, she had been captivated by the story of Our Lady of Fátima, in which three shepherd children in central Portugal had repeatedly seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, who they said recounted three secrets.

“As a kid, she was really interested in the story, and it felt really magical and enchanting — these little children and the sun dancing in the sky,” Ms. Fintan said.

The events in 1917 inspired books and at least one film, as well as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who flocked to the site. There, witnesses said, they saw the sun shine with dazzling colors and appear to dance. To this day, the shrine in Fátima is Portugal’s most important pilgrimage site, drawing millions of visitors each year.

In 1918, two of the three children — Jacinta and Francisco, young siblings — died in the influenza pandemic. They were proclaimed saints by Pope Francis in 2017. (Their cousin, Lucia, lived to 97 and died in 2005.)

Ms. Fintan’s mother named her daughter for the Jacinta of this story — as did many other Catholic parents, including those of Jacinta Di Mase, a literary agent in Melbourne, Australia. “My mother was a devout Catholic and loved the story and the name,” she said.

Ms. Parsons’s parents were also inspired by that story, she told me.

Many of Australia and New Zealand’s more prominent Jacintas and Jacindas are also of Catholic descent — Dave Price, the father of Ms. Price, is Irish Australian and grew up Catholic, she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2018.

Not every Jacinda or Jacinta comes from a Catholic family, and some parents were doubtless influenced by other young Jacintas they knew. Ms. Ardern, the former New Zealand prime minister who grew up in a Mormon household, does not seem to have spoken publicly about the inspiration for her name, her biographer, Michelle Duff, told me.

And in some cases, as with all names, it was just a nice fit. Jacinta Lee, an Australian journalist in Sydney, told me that her own family had liked the way it sounded, “and the fact that it was a rare choice, but easy enough to spell/pronounce.”

Here are the week’s stories. And if you liked this investigation into a wealth of Jacintas, you might enjoy Connie Wang’s moving essay on a generation of Asian American Connies.



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