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.

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21 Responses to “Oh, Susannah!”

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Christina Fonseca Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 4:55 am

Spanish has two forms: Susana and the less common Azucena.

The lily itself has two names in Spanish: lirio and azucena.

Emmy Jo Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 4:58 am

I love Susannah! She’s my personal top three, though I can’t decide whether I prefer her with or without the final H.

This name has just about everything going for it, so I can’t figure out why it isn’t more popular. I was shocked when I discovered several months ago that it’s not in the top 1000 (though the Spanish Susana is ranked #993).

She’s biblical (and biblical names are in). She’s similar in sound to the top-10 Sophia and Hannah. Plus, she has the same meaning as the chart-climbing Lily.

I’ve known one Susannah — a young girl I worked with. She went by Zannah sometimes, which sounds much more updated than Susie.

Lola Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 10:18 am

I love Susanna! In my case, I’d use it to honor me, one of my middles is the dated Susanne (which I’m actually quite fond of). Susannah looks too clunky to me, I prefer streamlined Susanna. Sukie/Sukey is my preferred nickname. I’ve liked that one since “Witches of Eastwick”. Susanna’s only been off the charts since 1997, So she feels a bit more contemporary to me too!

I’ve never known a Susanna/h. Loads of Susans, Suzanne’s though. And I’ve always felt out of place with my Susanne, although I like it very much.

Sharmila Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Susanna’s a favorite of mine! She sounds so elegant, but very fresh. And I’m so surprised that she hasn’t been more popular, especially given the popularity of Anna and Hannah and others along that vein.

I’ve known two of them, both spelled Susannah. Lola, I agree with you — the -h looks a little awkward for my taste. I’ve never been a fan of any name with an -h at the end in general (perhaps lingering resentment from way too many people spelling my name Sharmilah when I was younger — yuck!). Sanna is my favorite of the nicknames.

Kat Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Susannah is my daughter’s middle name. I love the old fashioned feel and the many occurrences in our family trees. Plus, my sister in law was going to be named Susanna, but they decided she was a Shannon instead.

Jenmb Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Argh! you featured some of my favorite name(s)! I love the names derived from Susan (except Susan ironically). Susanna(h) sounds beautiful and classic. I love the name Suzanne – it just has a sophisticated, funky sound to it. Susana is my favorite, but I think people will often mispronounce it.

Jenmb Says:

February 17th, 2009 at 8:38 pm

guess I shouldn’t have said those names were derived from Susan — but that’s the most common

Alicia Says:

February 18th, 2009 at 11:15 am

I’ve always loved Susannah! She’s quite lovely.
And I used to think Susan sounded like an “old” name. Somewhat a decade (or more) above me, but not a little baby. However, when I watched Narnia, hearing them call Susan the name instantly took on this antique but sweet feel. now, I love it.
I also love the nickname Sukie.

mayberry Says:

February 18th, 2009 at 11:55 am

My sister’s name is Susan. If I hadn’t named my first child Joanna, I would use Susannah for another–love it.

Has anyone heard of or know anything about the name Isannah — I remember reading it in the book “Johnny Tremain” and have never seen it since.

jdf Says:

February 18th, 2009 at 7:57 pm

My 7 year old is Susannah, called Susie. In the beginning, people did burst into song, but we don’t hear it much anymore. She loves the fact that she has “her” song. In preschool one of the teachers called her SusieQ, and she wrote her name that way for a number of years. All in all, it has worked wll for us.

Emmy Jo Says:

February 18th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Mayberry:

Isannah was the name of one of Paul Revere’s daughters who died in infancy. No one seems to know quite where it comes from. Some speculate it’s from the French Ysanne, but it seems most reasonable to assume it’s a combo of Isabella and Susannah or Hannah (all of which were fairly popular in the 18th century).

It’s a name that has always appealed to me, so I asked Abby at Appellation Mountain to feature it as her Name of the Day. Here’s a link to what she found out:
http://appellationmountain.net/2008/10/19/name-of-the-day-isannah/

Just out of curiosity, how have you been pronouncing Isannah? I go with eye-ZAN-uh, though I’m not sure it’s correct.

Lola Says:

February 19th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Mayberry, Isannah was the NotD at Appellation Mtn back in Oct, here’s the link:
http://appellationmountain.net/2008/10/19/name-of-the-day-isannah/

Verity always does a bang-up job researching!

salifer Says:

June 23rd, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I love Susannah! Would also definitely use Shoshana, which could honor my grandmother, whose Hebrew name was Shana.

Suzie Says:

August 1st, 2009 at 8:50 pm

My name is Suzannah, although I’ve always been called Suzie. I used to hate Suzannah when I was little but as I’ve got older I’m starting to love it, it sounds really grown up and sophisticated! I still like the name Suzie as I feel that’s my name, but I’m definately grateful now for having a longer classier version for formal situations. I wouldn’t like it without the ‘z’ though, to me it makes the name, its spelt how it sounds and it looks more exotic and not as soft. I love that its su-zee not su-see, i know people don’t pronounce it like that but it makes a difference to me, don’t know why! And in fact one of my friends calls me Zee which is a cool name, although all my close friends and family have ended up calling me Suz (pronounced Soo-ze) which I love, its short and sharp but affectionate. So in conclusion I’ve come to love my name, and the hebrew meaning ‘lily’ makes it even cooler, but for me its not the same without the ‘h’ or the ‘z’, I like it to be traditional, think thats how it was spelt in the bible, and I know thats how Shakespeare spelt it for his daughter!

Nyx Says:

August 16th, 2009 at 11:22 pm

My name is Suzanna, and it is a longtime family name… I am rather surprised that this variation doesn’t get mentioned much – To me, it seems very feminine while still looking somewhat modern…

Susanaa Says:

January 5th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

My name is Susana, and I’m from Spain. Is true that ”Susana” is the usual Spanish spelling. ”Susanna” is also often used in a part of Spain, in Catalonia.

Personally, I do not like being called with a shorter form of my name. They often call me Susan, Susy, or Su, but I still do not like it.
In Spain, ”Susy” shortening is ”Asunción”, a Spanish name that translated into English it would be like ”Assumption”. For this reason I do not like being called Susy. I always tell them to call me Susana.

I like my name because it means lily. My mother called me like that because in my time was an unusual name and she likes his meaning too.

nirkolounriodra Says:

March 4th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

ok, good post.

itsallthere Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I have never even considered the name Susannah before reading this post. I was reading and thinking, I really don’t like Sue, Susie or Susan.
Then I came upon Susannah and said it to myself a few times and it just stuck! This is going onto my list for future consideration. It sounds so lovely, close to Johanna, Hannah and Anna that I love but are really over used. I love that it could be shortened to Sannah or Annah if I wanted to shorten it. It is unique enough that there won’t be a class full of similar named children but recognizable enough that she won’t be burdened with a trail blazing name.
Love it!

Margie Says:

April 11th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I named my daughter Suzannah. I thought that was the popular way to spell the name, but now that I know otherwise, I’m still glad we spelled it with a Z. She goes by Suzannah and Zannah. I call her Suzie sometimes. Her brother could not pronounce Suzannah when she was a baby. He called her Nana and that has stuck too. She’ll probably be Nana Nana as a grandma someday!

iwillpraise Says:

July 8th, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Susie has been a long-time name crush of mine, starting with one of my very first beloved pre-named Cabbage Patch Kids! (Kathy too, and I’d definitely be tempted to use it if it wasn’t already my sister-in-law’s name!) I’ve also watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a Christmas tradition for I don’t know how long! Daddy’s cute little petal-loosing Zuzu 🙂

I actually know a girl in her early to mid 20’s named Susan, which always intrigued me. But recently I’ve been discovering how much I really ADORE Susannah and am now seriously considering the more streamlined Susana version for future daughter Adelaide’s middle name – I think it would be so lovely!! I must scheme a way to convince hubby of its charm tho! I believe it would similarly utilize a mid-century name as my mom did with my middle name Jean.

I never heard Shoshana until I moved to New Jersey where there are largely populated Jewish communities with traditional Hebrew names. Every time I run across another Shoshana at work, now I tell all the girls at work it is the Hebraic Susannah, meaning Lily! 😀 Because of this article, my understanding of the versatility of this name has broadened greatly!!

historygrlsc Says:

November 12th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Just stumbled upon this blog post. My daughter is named Susannah — I just liked the “H” and we were looking for S names (family name we were naming after was “Stephen” and we hated Stephanie. Everyone says how much they like it, and although we have had a bit of the “Oh Susannah”, it goes away after a while. I do call her “Susie Q” a lot of the time, however. 🙂 I think the “h” makes the name look more complete, personally, although it means we have to spell it for everyone.

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