Letter "D" for PCAGOE Project
Image by Jenn and Tony Bot via Flickr

She’s been quietly rising since 2002.  What’s behind this intriguing appellation?

Thanks to Samantha for suggesting her mother’s name, Danna, as our Baby Name of the Day.

The Biblical Daniel has a long history of use.  He’s been in the US Top Ten most years since 1981, coming in at #7 in 2009.

Feminine forms of Daniel have come and gone, including:

  • The French Danielle rose through the 1970s to peak at #14 in 1987 before sliding to #170 in 2009;
  • The pan-European Daniela was also discovered in the 1970s, reaching a high of #108 in 2007;
  • Surname/masculine moniker Dana migrated to the girls’ side in the 1960s.  Child star Dana Plato raised her visibility in the 80s, but Dana has since dropped to #530 in 2009.

If Dana had not been popular a generation earlier, surely she’d fit right in with Jada and Layla today.  Instead, the gentler, rhymes-with-Hannah Danna is catching on.

Some of it might be just parents honor dads and grandpas called Dan.  But Danna has other possible sources, and she charted in the US Top 1000 from the 1940s into the 1970s.

In 2002, she re-entered the rankings at #838, and has since climbed to #390.  Possible sources include:

  • There was a tiny village in the Ottoman Empire called Danna, but it was abandoned in the 1940s;
  • There’s a tiny, scarcely populated Scottish island called Danna, too;
  • I’ve found a few references suggesting that Danna means something like “pearl” or otherwise references something of great value, but I can’t confirm the translation in any dictionary;
  • Here’s a bizarre reference: Arthur Golden’s 1997 bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha explained that a danna is a geisha’s patron.  The term was heard at the same time the name returned to favor, but I’ll chalk that up to coincidence.

Still, none of the possible origins explain Danna’s rise.  Surely there’s a famous Danna?

  • Bogotá-born actress Danna García is a major Latina star.  She’s appeared in Telemundo productions, served as a Maybelline spokesperson and been named to People en Español‘s Los 50 más Bellos list;
  • From 2005 through 2009, the reboot of Battlestar Galactica included a sinister Cylon reporter, played by Lucy Lawless.  The character’s name is D’Anna Biers, but they pronounce it more like Diana;
  • 90s Israeli pop singer Dana International started out her career as Danna International;
  • Dannah Phirman is an Israeli-born comedienne, who has had a successful career in the US.

The -h spelling suggested one more possibility.  There’s a town in the West Bank called Idhna, an ancient settlement thought to correspond to the Biblical Dannah.  Just like Jordan and other Biblical place names have caught on as given names, that might help explain Danna.

Or is she just a twist – this generations D – n – a name?  Donna reigned from the 1940s through the 1960s.  Deanna peaked in the 1970s.  Diana has been in the US Top 100 more years than not, beginning in the 1940s and continuing as recently as 2004/2005.

She’s neither retro nor nouveau, but with her appealing sound and respectable history of use in the 20th century, it is easy to imagine more parents choosing Danna.

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. My name is Dannah, and frankly I don’t like to see that Danna/Dannah is rising in popularity! I’ve always liked the uniqueness of the name. I have only met another Dannah once in my life (as a teenager), and it was an awkward experience for both of us.

    Yes, the name rhymes with Hannah, but you’d be surprised how many people say Dana, Donna, Diana, or some other D-name, even after I tell them how to pronounce it. Dana is definitely the most common.

    As for the origin, my dad’s name is Danny, so my mom put a “dan” in each of our names. Fortunately, it’s not always the first syllable- for instance, my older brother is named Jordan (he was born in 1983, before this became a popular girl’s name). There are five of us, and our names are:

    #1 Jordan Davis
    #2 Dannah Karlynn
    #3 Karalyn Danielle (my parents didn’t realize how close this one is to my name, just with the first and middle names reversed!)
    #4 Elijah Daniel
    #5 Bryndan Alicia

    Not sure how I feel about working an entire syllable into each name- it created a nice pattern in our case, but by the time #5 was born, we were stretching it. We came up with “Bryndan” because my mom has always liked the name “Brynne,” but we’ve ended up calling her “Bryn” or “Brynnie” more than anything else.

  2. The first time I saw this name was a few weeks ago. Someone was asking about it on Yahoo! Answers. My initial reaction, thinking it was just a feminine form of Dan, was “ick.” I mean, the sound is pretty and everything, but I’m usually not into feminizations of masculine names (like Roberta, Fredericka) unless they have a substantial history of their own (a la Josephine or Anastasia).

    Reading your post has made me view it in a more positive light. Being named after a Scottish island or a little town in Israel is miles more interesting than just getting a man’s name with “-a” tacked on the end.

    Is it wrong that whether or not I like a name is so tied up in my ideas about its origin?

  3. Weird that this is the name of the day, last night I was thinking about how much I don’t like Donna, my grandma’s name, and was trying to think of a way to honor her when it occurred to me to mix it with my other grandma’s name, Ann. Came up with Danna! Not something I would ever use, but I sort of see its appeal.

    1. My name is Danna, pronounced Dayna, and I have to say/write that too many times for me not to be called Donna, Danna like Anna, or Diana, D’Anna.. My mother explained it to me that the (male) actor Dana Andrews had 1 n so a female should have 2. I just read that that it was orig considered a masculine name started changing in the 60s

  4. I’ve never watched SNL, and I was pretty young in the ’80s, but I think having daughters named Roseanna and Danna would be suicide. No, I can’t even consider this one.

  5. This is a really interesting post. I think the Arabic name Dahna might be related to the Israeli reference (Hebrew and Arabic are very similar). Danna is probably the closest pronunciation to the Arabic name, because it’s not Donna, Dana, or Deena, but D-AH-na. Anywho, I really love this name. I do think that Dannah is a better spelling though so that people know it rhymes with Hannah.

    1. Sarah, thanks for the note about Dahna – that makes sense.

      And i agree about the spelling Dannah. I have no doubts about how to say Dannah, though I can imagine someone stumbling and calling Danna “Dana” instead.

  6. I have a good friend named Danna (and I’ll be sending her your post). I think her main frustration is that people call her Dana.