The scarlet letter? Answer Man always thought it was A (for “adultery”), but after last week’s column, he’s thinking it might be J (for “John Kelly”?). That’s because he received quite a few irate responses to the column about why Washington lacks a J Street.
Answer Man did not mean to suggest that the letter J did not exist in the 1790s. It did. Thomas Jefferson did spell his last name with a J.
But back when Washington was being designed, Americans thought of the 10th letter of the alphabet differently than we do now. Since the letter J grew out of the letter I, and in writing often looked identical, it was thought that having an I Street and a
J Street would be confusing.
This sentiment was especially true among students of the classics, who would have understood that J was not used in Latin.
That’s why Thomas Jefferson could ink his initials as “T.I.” in a book, knowing that his fellow lovers of Rome would understand.
Joyce A. Lancaster was among readers who pointed out that while Washington may not have a J Street, it does have a Jay Street.
“It’s in Northeast,” Joyce wrote. “I proudly lived on that street for a number of years. And it is in a neighborhood that has a rich history of its own.”
The neighborhood is Deanwood, the area around Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue. Jay Street runs discontinuously from Mayfair Mansions to Nannie Hellen Burroughs Avenue NE. Michael Harrison, the local historian and street- name expert, says it is almost certainly named after the nation’s first chief justice, John Jay.
While we’re in the Js, Dave Sproul is desperate to know about the street he’s worked on for more than 40 years. He’s the chief engineer at WMAL-WRQX, at 44th and Jenifer streets NW.
“I still do not know who Jenifer was, nor does anyone else around here,” wrote Dave, who added that he’s made a side career out of demanding that people get the spelling of the name right: one N.
Michael said the street is named for one of the Founding Fathers: Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, born in 1723 in Maryland.
Jenifer was a wealthy planter, merchant and slave owner from Charles County. He held various Colonial roles — justice of the peace, member of the Maryland legislature — but eventually chafed under British rule and joined with like-minded patriots at the Constitutional Convention.
“A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789” has this to say about him: “Jenifer was nationalistic in his political philosophy and favored a permanent union of the states. His experience with public finance induced him to take a stand against the issuing of printed money; he favored Congress being given the power to tax.”
But what you’re really wondering is this: What’s up with that name? It’s not often you meet someone with a preposition in his name, aside from Dances With Wolves. But that was Jenifer’s first name: Daniel of St. Thomas. Was he conceived in the Virgin Islands? Presumably not. In fact, this was a common name in the Jenifer family. What’s more, Daniel of St. Thomas’s brother was named Daniel. And that Daniel had two sons, one named Daniel, the other Daniel of St. Thomas.
Answer Man finds that weird.
There is also a Jenifer Street in Madison, Wis. But that is an issue for that city’s answer man.
Are you a Sunday-only reader of The Washington Post? Answer Man supposes that’s better than being a no-day reader, but it means you may have missed the announcement of which D.C. school he is hoping you will support with your Giant, Safeway and Harris Teeter loyalty cards.
It is W.B. Patterson Elementary in Southwest. If you aren’t already linking your card to your own child’s school, please help raise some money for Patterson. You can find details on how to do that at www.washingtonpost.
Send your questions about the Washington area to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @johnkelly