Saint AgnesShe’s a medieval standard, long out of use. But she might be a great choice for a 21st century girl.

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.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Annes is actually a family surname on my family tree and I have always wondered if Annes would work as a girl name. It has been misspelled on family tree as Annis, Anns, and occasionally Anne. I think Ansley would be a sweet namesake to Annes.

  2. I was named Annis after my great aunt. although I do love my name, I do get called anus alot, and I honestly don’t think that my name is that hard to pronouce. but thee than that I love my name!

  3. With this spelling, I can’t help but think that Annis would be a great sister for Magina. 🙂

  4. Oh dear. Am I the only one who immediately thought of an unmentionable word? I just can’t get past the similarity… sorry!! However, Agnes and Anais, I love. Thanks for a great post as always 🙂

  5. Great name of the day!

    I actually know a woman named Annise (ah-NEES) who is in her late 20’s. I had always wondered if her parents had made up her name (like a cross between Anne and Denise or something). I now have a new-found respect for it.

    I love Agnes, but I’d never heard the Annis variation before. Like JNE, I think it’s pretty, but I also was immediately reminded of a certain orifice. Anise (like the plant) might be the best spelling variation for this one. At least it would be most likely to get pronounced correctly.

    Do you happen to know where one can find information on the most common medieval names? Ever since I read nameberry’s entry stating Agnes was the “third most common English girls’ name for four hundred years,” I’ve been wondering what the first and second and fourth and fifth and sixth were.

  6. Annis is nice. I immediately thought of anise. On the Food Network, the various cooks and chefs mention the anise flavor of fennel; they never say licorice, just “anise flavor.”

    I’m dumbfounded to learn that Aniston is on the rise. Ugh.

    1. I agree with you entirely, Joy! And I really dislike the taste of anise/fennel, so bad association.

      And Aniston will only ever be an Army depot to me, spelled differently or not.

      1. I hate licorice anything. I have cooked with fennel exactly once, in caponata with raisins, and any anise flavor must have been muted by all the tomato, onion and eggplant.

  7. As much as I want to love this name due to its fascinating heritage, I can only just like it. I would, however, love to meet an Annis. I have known a few Agneses, but find this ancient variant much more appealing.

    Was it really more popular than Mary? That’s totally unexpected! I wish there was a list somewhere of unexpectedly popular medieval names.

  8. I want to love this name, and to pronounce it ANN-iss, but the sad tween in me keeps thinking a long a sound…. Spelled Annise, it loses the long-a-sound tendency in my head, but also I then say ah-NEESE. As much as I hate suggesting spelling variations, in this case, maybe Annes (since it is related to Agnes)? But that just looks like the plural of Anne. Anness? Tat looks silly, right? Sigh. I do love the Frenchy Anais, though…. and Agnes and Ines/Inez are nice, too.

    1. Well, yes. There’s that. One of my childhood nicknames was Amos, and one of my sister’s friends used to hear something very different. She confessed – years later – that she’d thought my mother was unspeakably cruel.

      Of course, I’d never made the association before that. But it’s clearly there.

      I think you’d be free to respell this one. I’m not completely confident Annis was the most common spelling. But Annes does look like a plural – or a mangled possessive. Totally hear you on the Annise probably. Maybe Annice?

      Hmmm …