SHERIDAN — At one table last Saturday, a waiter at Firewater Bar and Grill had to take everyone’s last name while writing down orders.
The unusual action was required because the table’s six patrons had identical or extremely similar first names: Jane. The women at the table gathered for the eighth annual “Jane” party, a celebration of locals united by a common name.
The event was open to anyone with “Jane” or its variant in their first, middle or last name.
“It doesn’t matter who you are; we want you to come,” Jane Perkins said.
Perkins, the fun director at The Hub on Smith, is one of three co-founders of the event.
“(It was about) the idea of celebrating the name Jane through a couple of women who felt that there was no way in heck that we would ever be ‘plain Janes,’” Perkins said. “…We feel like that we are in no way, shape or form, plain.”
The “Jane” party began as a small gathering of different women discussing how they received their names but has evolved into a more festive occasion.
It has occurred every year in late January — affectionately referred to as “Jan(e)uary” by the party members — to celebrate Perkins’ birthday on Jan. 21.
The party essentially serves as a way for Janes to express who they are and meet new people. Perkins knew some of the participants before but has met new people and developed better connections after eight years hosting the party.
“It’s all just a matter of celebrating people and establishing a camaraderie,” Perkins said.
The turnout this year was a bit lower than normal. Most parties in previous years had between 10 and 15 Janes in one room.
The occasion took place at what was then known as the Sheridan Senior Center for the first three years. The Janes moved locations and have held it at Big Horn Smokehouse and the Sheridan Inn before celebrating at the Firewater this year.
“We try and spread our business around a little bit and just have some chuckles and catch up with one another,” Perkins said.
Perkins said they will sometimes run into each other around town and have fun by embracing their shared names.
“We’re proud of it, man,” Perkins said. “When we see each other in the grocery store (we say), ‘Jane! Hey Jane!’”
Jaynie Spell was one of six partygoers. She helped initiate the annual occasion with Perkins and Jane Wohl. Spell was born and raised in Sheridan, moved away for about three decades and returned in 1995.
Spell’s unique moniker is a combination of her grandmothers Jane and Jenny. Spell didn’t always enjoy her name, which she thought sounded somewhat juvenile. For a time, she wanted to be named Elizabeth, but Spell grew to appreciate her name’s significance.
At the various celebrations, Spell has enjoyed striking up conversations with new people and sharing commonalities. She was introduced to three new Janes this year.
“At first you think, ‘Eh, it feels a little cheesy,’ but it’s kind of fun,” Spell said.
“It’s a support system in a sisterly way,” Perkins said.
One of their shared experiences involves the array of bad “plain Jane” and “Tarzan” jokes they have heard over the decades.
“After 60 years, it’s not that funny, but guys will still say, ‘Hey, you Jane, me Tarzan,’” Perkins said.
Jane Kelly was a first-time “Jane” party attendee. She came after receiving an invitation from Perkins and plans to return next year. Kelly lived in Sheridan for three years in the 1960s and then moved back about three years ago because she loved the downtown vibrancy and outdoor activities.
Kelly enjoyed meeting more Janes. Until last week, she had only met one other person named Jane in her life, though she has known many Jans.
Kelly said there was a similar gathering for people with the name Ellen in her hometown of Alliance, Nebraska, but the participants do not know of any similar events in the area. Perkins mentioned a Linda party a few years ago but said it only occurred once.
Perkins hasn’t determined a location for next year’s Jane party, but she hopes to eventually hold it at a more lofty yet apropos location: the Jane Hotel in New York City.