By Linda Rosenkrantz
There are few names that have given birth to as many variations as Ann, the simplest and softest of the classic girls’ names. But while others like Mary and Margaret and Elizabeth have spawned almost unrecognizable progeny—from Daisy to Bessie to Peggy to Polly—most of the Ann derivatives have stayed pretty close to their mother name.
Yet Ann herself is an offshoot, coming from Hannah, a Hebrew name meaning ‘grace,’ who in the Old Testament is the mother of the prophet Samuel. This version was taken up by the Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and remained a commonly used name in the Jewish community for several generations.
Anna is the Latin form widely used in countries across the world, while Ann was originally the English spelling and Anne the French. St. Anne was the traditional, non-biblical name of the mother of the Virgin Mary, which explains its popularity among Christians—and is the name of several saints. In more modern times, the affection felt for the character Anne Shirley in the childhood classic, Anne of Green Gables, also contributed to the spread of this spelling.
Ann, Anne, Anna and Hannah have played hopscotch on the popularity lists in the US over the years. The Ann spelling was much more common in the nineteenth century, then was surpassed by the four-letter version, especially after the birth of England’s Princess Anne in 1950. In 1900, Anna was the third most popular name in the country, Ann was Number 92, Anne was 108, and Hannah was 169. In 1950, Ann was 45, Anne 84, Anna had dropped to 93 and Hannah was way down at 666. By the year 2000, however, Ann was 493, Anne 298, Anna back up at 22, and Hannah had zoomed up to second place—accounting for 23,000+ births that year (and remains the most popular version). And of course Ann was also one of the prime go-to filler middle names for decades, while both Ann and Anne were hitched onto both the fronts and backs of several other names.
Nickname Annie has run its own parallel course—popular with several ethnic groups, from Irish to Jewish– it was a Top 10 name in the 1880’s, remained in the double digits until 1946, and is currently at 377.
Of late, the various forms of the name have been in the spotlight via Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway, the (inadvertent?) namesake of the wife of William Shakespeare, and young actors Anna Pacquin, Kendrick and Chlumsky. Among the countless other notable bearers of the name in history are Anne Boleyn, Anne Brontë, Anne Frank (born Annelies), and numerous other actresses and writers.
Here are some of the many members of the Ann clan:
The Mother Lode
Some International Variations
Ane—Hawaiian, Lithuanian, Danish
Annette—originally a French pet form
Some diminutives and pet forms