Thanks to Jillian for suggesting Annis as Baby Name of the Day.
Agnes of Rome was a rebel. A tweenaged Christian convert when the Diocletian persecutions began, the well born Roman defied an order to marry. She was dragged to a brothel, and things get worse from there. Like many an early saint, it’s said that there were problems aplenty trying to end her life, and her captors suffered their share of torments. Ultimately, Agnes was beheaded.
Saint Ambrose recorded her story, and made Agnes a star. She died in the year 303, and was popular well into the Middle Ages. She’s often pictured with a lamb – as in the Latin agnus – but the name is believed to be derived from the Greek hagnos – chaste.
As the defiant Agnes’ name was translated into other languages, it changed considerably. The -ng sound is often dropped, resulting in a sound closer to an YEH or an YEHZ. Old French records list the name as Anes. She’s Iñes or Inéz in Spanish, and she eventually became Annis in English.
And she became very popular indeed in medieval England. By the Middle Ages, you were more likely to meet an Annis than a Mary. Spelling variants abound: Anese, Anis, Annice and Annise are just a few.
Some of the Annis spelling variants are difficult to separate from variants and elaborations of the evergreen Ann, like the français Anais. Today, with Annabelle climbing the rankings, followed by choices like Annika, Annalie and Aniston, that’s part of her appeal.
You could also view her as a valid nineteenth century revival. From the 1880s into the 1920s, Annis appeared at the upper edges of the US Top 1000. Her last appearance was 1940, but plenty of once-forgotten names are in the midst of a comeback.
Annis also became a surname. Perhaps that explains how a famed Canadian Sports Hall of Famer ended up answering to Annis Stuckus. He’s memorialized with the Annis Stuckus trophy, given annually to a Canadian Football League player. There’s also Anicetus, the name of a first century pirate and a second century pope.
Then there’s Black Annis, a beclawed witch from English folklore, said to live in a cave and come out by night to hunt for children. You might find references to her in pop culture – comic book Hellboy and role playing game Dungeons and Dragons both give the name to a villain.
There are a handful of worthy namesakes:
- Eighteenth century poet Annis Stockton lived at Princeton’s Morven estate.
- Twentieth century British philosopher Antony Flew was married to Annis Harty.
- English author Georgette Heyer, a well-known romance novelist, gave the name to heroine Annis Wychwood in 1972’s Lady of Quality, one of her last novels.
Today, Annis gets a boost from her botanical cousin anise, a flowering plant with a flavor similar to liquorice.
But she doesn’t need it. With easy nicknames Ann, Annie and Anna, plus her similarity to fresh and fashionable revival picks like Alice and Frances, she’s a nice compromise for parents seeking a truly uncommon choice that still blends in.