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The final of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest took place on May 10, with Austria’s Conchita Wurst winning with the Bondesque power ballad Rise Like a Phoenix – the first time Austria has won since 1966.

Australia has a peculiar fascination with and affection for Eurovision, which began with Swedish band ABBA, who won in 1974 with Waterloo, as we were the first country outside Sweden to really appreciate them. European migration to Australia also played a big role, as did the gay community, and there is something about the kitschy campiness of Eurovision which appeals to the Australian sense of humour. Either way, it’s time to get yourself to Eurovision party dressed as a Swiss yodeller, eat spanakopita, and play overly ironic drinking games.

Not content with this vicarious enjoyment, for many years now Australia has been demanding to take part in Eurovision as well – hopefully as contestants, but failing that, maybe some sort of guest hosting gig. Australia being in Eurovision isn’t a practical idea: we’re not members of the European Broadcasting Union but only Associate Members, and we’re thousands of miles away in a completely different time zone. Nonetheless, we haven’t given up hope.

Sick of our constant nagging, host country Denmark, probably feeling some sense of obligation since Crown Princess Mary is from Australia, gave us a chance to perform an interval act as a tribute to our love of Eurovision. So we sent pop star Jessica Mauboy (who starred in The Sapphires) over to sing her anthem Sea of Flags to millions of viewers – she did a great job, and sent ratings for Eurovision in Australia soaring. Jessica has sung for Oprah and President Barack Obama, but Eurovision was a thrill on a whole other level, and she is using this as an opportunity to launch a European tour.

Jessica is a name created by William Shakespeare for his play, The Merchant of Venice. In the play, Jessica is the daughter of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh from his rival Antonio, who has insulted and spat upon him. Jessica, who describes life with her father as hell, falls in love with Antonio’s friend Lorenzo and becomes a Christian, further enraging Shylock.

It is thought that Shakespeare based the name on Iscah, meaning “foresight”. In the Bible, Iscah is a niece of the prophet Abraham who is mentioned only briefly in the book of Genesis. In Shakespeare’s time, the name would have been written Jescha, and pronounced like Jesca. As Jessica is a Jewish girl from Venice, Shakespare might have been trying to make her name look like an Italian form of a Hebrew name.

The Merchant of Venice was written around 1596, and by 1600 had been performed many times. Yet the name Jessica only appears in the records in the mid-18th century, when The Merchant of Venice had become a popular stage play. It also post-dates the Jews’ return to England in the 17th century, after being banished during the Middle Ages (Shakespeare’s play about a vengeful Jewish moneylender was written in an England without a Jewish community). One of the reasons why Jessica probably seemed like a usable English name is because Jessie was already a pet form of Jane and Jean.

Jessica first ranked in the 1960s at #437. Why the 1960s? My guess is because Jennifer had peaked in the 1950s at #1 in Victoria and #2 in New South Wales, and by the 1960s had only fallen one place in each state. The raging success of Jennifer paved the way for Jessica the successor.

Jessica joined the Top 100 in 1976 at #97, and by 1979 was in the Top 50, at #34. By 1981 it was in the Top 20 at #18, and by 1982 had joined the Top 10 at #7. The following year it was Top 5, at #3, and by 1984 was the #1 name; a position it maintained until 1998.

Jessica is currently #35 nationally (410 babies named Jessica in 2013), #40 in New South Wales, #39 in Victoria, #41 in Queensland, #24 in Western Australia, #92 in Tasmania, and #39 in the Australian Capital Territory. In mainland Australia, Jessica is on a slow descent, and still a Top 50 name.

Jessica is now in its fifth decade of popularity, and still in the top half of the Top 100 – if its staying power mirrors Jennifer, it would have another thirty years of popularity left. You can understand why, because Jessica is a pretty modern classic whose literary origins help make it seem traditional rather than trendy. After all these years, Jessica cannot be seen as a fresh or original choice, but it is still a very good one.

POLL RESULT
Jessica received an approval rating of 35%. People thought the name Jessica was too common and boring (19%), and already seeming dated (16%). However, 12% saw it as a pretty or beautiful modern classic.

(Photo shows Jessica performing at Eurovision)

 

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