The name Jessica first appeared in Shakespeare's late 16th-century play "The Merchant of Venice." The character was the daughter of Jewish moneylender Skylock.
We don't know Shakespeare's source for certain, but it's assumed that he based the name Jessica on the Hebrew name Yiskah, which means "to behold" or "foresight." Yiskah, also spelled Iscah and Jesca, was a woman mentioned briefly in the Book of Genesis.
Jessica was very common as a baby name in the U.S. during the last half of the 20th century. It was one of the top 10 baby girl names from 1976 through 2000, and the #1 name for nine of those years. As of 2009, it's ranked 78th and looks as though it will soon be falling out of the top 100.
(I think it's interesting to compare the name Jessica with the name Jennifer. Jennifer not only sounds similar to Jessica, but also went from being rare during the first half of the 20th century to being extremely popular during the second half.)
Alternative spellings of Jessica include Jesica, Jessika, Jessicah, Jessicca, and Yessica. The most common nicknames are Jess and Jessie.
Because the name was rarely used before modern times, most of the famous Jessicas out there are modern people. Here are some examples:
- Jessica Alba (b. 1981), American actress
- Jessica Biel (b. 1982), American actress
- Jessica Hynes (b. 1972), British actress and comedienne
- Jessica Jung (b. 1989), U.S.-born Korean singer
- Jessica Lange (b. 1949), American actress
- Jessica Mitford (1917-1996), British-American writer
- Jessica Origliasso (b. 1984), Australian musician
- Jessica Simpson (b. 1980), American singer
- Jessica Stam (b. 1986), Canadian model
- Jessica Stroup (born 1986), American actress
- Jessica Szohr (b. 1985), American actress
- Jessica Tandy (1909-1994), British-American actress
- Jessica Walter (b. 1941), American actress
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