Oh, Susannah!

Oh, Susannah!

When I was a little girl I wanted to be named Susie.  Cute, perky, popular: the name Susie seemed to embody all the things I wanted to be, everything not associated with prissy, proper Pamela.

While I’ve come to prefer Pamela to Susie, I’m still fascinated by all the variations of that early beloved name.  Susannah is one of my very favorites, for example, undoubtedly inspired by my early love of Susie.  If I had six daughters, I’d certainly name one of them Susannah.

Alas, I had only one daughter, and a husband who didn’t like the name Susannah – upon hearing it, he could never resist breaking into a chorus of Oh Susannah!  Which, obviously, is one of the few big downsides of this otherwise beautiful name.

The original version of the name is Shoshana, Hebrew for ‘lily.’  Appearing in both the Old and the New Testaments, the name wasn’t common until the seventeenth century, when it was sometimes found in the archaic forms Susanney and Shusan or Shusanna.

Over the centuries and throughout the Western World, the name has moved in and out of fashion in so many different forms that they might comprise a chapter of a name dictionary all by themselves.  The major variations include:

SUSANNAH and SUSANNA – What’s the difference between these two versions of the same name?  The ‘h’ ending makes the first more properly Hebrew, and is the spelling used for the Old Testament figure falsely accused of adultery.  Susanna, usually the Italian, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, and Dutch version of the name, appears in the New Testament and as the name of two virgin martyrs.  SUSANA is the usual Spanish spelling. Susannah feels more old-fashioned but also more complete, relating to such currently fashionable names as Hannah and Mariah.  No form of Susannah has been in the Top 1000 for nearly ten years, though they all hold some style currency.

SUSAN – The abbreviated English Susan became the most popular version of the name in the 18th century, fell out of style in the 19th, and then came back in such a major way in the mid 20th century that it feels too much like a mom or a grandma name to be used for a baby now.  It was in the Top 10 from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s and in the Top 100 from the 1930s well into the 1980s – a full fifty years!

SUZANNE – The French form of the name enjoyed some popularity during Susan’s heyday but now has nosedived right out of the Top 1000.  The German and Scandinavian spelling is usually SUSANNE.  A pretty enough name, but with the more fashionable and more authentic Susannah or Susanna equally distinctive, why not choose one of those instead?

SUZETTE – Another French version of the name by now relegated to use only for poodles.  SUSETTE is somewhat softer, but not enough.

SANNE – The Dutch short form of Susanne has become a star in that country, ranking in the Top 10 for several years now.  While some Americans have by now heard of the name, few have yet used it.  SANNA is a related name used in Scandinavia; ZANNA is also found.

SHOSHANNAH – The original Hebrew form of the name, along with SHOSHANA, are still used, mostly in Israel and by Jewish parents.  SHANA and variant spellings are the short form.

ZSUZSANNA – The Hungarian version of Susannah, pronounced ZHOO-zhawn-a, is attracting some notice as the name of the wife of a Canadian politician and writer.  ZSUZSA and the more famous ZSAZSA are short forms.  Most Eastern European forms of Susan are spelled with a Z, including the Czech ZUZANA and the Polish ZUZANNA.  One of the most familiar and most winning versions: ZUZU, the name of the little girl in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

SUE – Used so often as a short form, as a middle name, and in conjunction with other names such as SUE-ELLEN and SUE-ANNE that it’s come to become almost a non-name, blending into the background without a strong identity of its own.

SUSIE – My ideal childhood name feels terminally girlish now, and most bobby-soxed Susies have long ago shortened their name to Sue or reverted to the original Susan or Suzanne.  Such appellations as Susie Homemaker and Susie Q have further driven the name out of consideration.  SUSI and SUZI have a similarly long time to mark before they have any chance for a comeback, though the antique SUKIE or SUKEY feels a tad fresher.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.