She’s as simple as Mae, as retro as Nell.

Thanks to Nan for suggesting her own appellation for Baby Name of the Day.

The regal, saintly Ann was once among the most common names given to women, along with the français Anne and Latinate Anna. So was Annis, a medieval English version of Agnes. The most popular version varied depending on the country and the century, but at different points, there were plenty of women wearing some version of Ann.

Queue the nicknames.

But how do you wrest a nickname from a single-syllable, three or four letter name? There’s Annie, of course. But other languages take a different approach. They use diminutive suffixes, creating elaborations like Anita and Annette.

In Ann’s case, the phrase “Mon Anne” or “Mine Ann” yielded yet another option. Say “Mon Anne” five times fast and you’ll hear the nickname hiding within – moNANne.

Other options included Nancy and Nanon, and, of course, over time Nan became a nickname for the Nan- names, too. 1925’s musical comedy No, No, Nanette became a movie – twice – and inspired parents. Nanette ranked in the US Top 1000 every year from 1925 into the mid-1970s.

On her own, Nan ranked in the US Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1962. The Bobbsey Twins – a long-running series of children’s stories written by the same group behind the Nancy Drew novels – included not one, but two sets of twins: Freddie and Flossie, and Burt and Nan. Since they were first published in 1904, it seems likely that Nan was her given name. (You can read an early version of the original story here.)

More recently, there’s:

  • Nan Flanagan, the smooth-talking publicist for the American Vampire League on HBO’s True Blood;
  • In the 1920s, Nan Britton kick-started a genre with her scandalous tell-all memoir about her affair with President Warren G. Harding;
  • Actress Nan Martin’s career spanned the 1950s into the early 2000s. Her roles ranged from a chum of The Golden Girls to Freddy Kreuger’s mom in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise;
  • Nan Kempner was a New York City socialite known for making the best dressed list. She raised mad money for worthy causes, too.

There’s also King Nan. Yup, in Chinese, Nan is a masculine moniker, as worn by King Nan of Zhou, who reigned around 200 BC.

If you’ve named your daughter Anna – or even Hannah – and feel the need for a nickname, Nan is a great choice. But she also – almost – stands on her own, as a spare, simple, but elegant option.

If you’re worried that Nell is the next big thing, Nan might be one to consider.

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. There is also Anthea “Nan” Harding (not to be confused with the aforementioned or their daughter) from Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Men (a continuation of Little Women) who was a doctor-career-dreaming Victorian girl in a time when females we’re at most nurses.

  2. “Mon Anne” is “My Ann” not “Mine Ann”, “mine” being “la mienne/le mien” (depending on whether what you are referring to has a female or male connotation. But good post otherwise.

  3. My name is Nan, born in Wales and moved to the UK. I really wished I had changed it, it’s my biggest regret. It’s a very hard name to live with.

    1. I find that very offensive! My full name is Nan and many people think it’s very interesting!

      1. My full name is “Nan” too. Glad to hear I am not alone. I am always having to convince people that it is not short for anything.

  4. ? it although my octogenarian Nan/Nanny is still very much around and it wouldn’t work. I may or may not refer to my youngest as the redundant Little Nan occasionally. Her middles, Anne Juniper, can be seen as a subtle nod to Nan June (as well as being another familial honorific).

    I love Nell too. It’s FAR more serviceable and was a first name (and middle name) consideration.

    1. Funny about the grandma thing. I thought of naming my 2nd girl Zadie, but then realized that it is Yiddish for Gramps! We’re not Jewish, but it still seemed too odd.

      1. *tucks that info away*’

        I saw Zadie recently in an Australian BA, I’m sure of it.

        I think I know more people here in NZ that refer to their grandmothers as Nan/Nanny/Nana/Nanna than grandma/granny etc. I guess if a Kiwi wanted an uncommon, refreshing, extremely vintage name that was also highly problematic, maybe laughable and confusing to most, Nan would be it.

        The alternative Nancy is safer.

    1. Ditto.

      My gramma was a Nancy, called Nanny by the other grandkids [she was ALWAYS Gramma to me!]. So Nanny seems like another term for grandmother, rather than a proper name/nickname.

  5. Charlotte Vera – you beat me to it! It’s a nice, short palindrome name…similar to Ava I suppose, but with only one syllable.

    CV – did you notice that she gave her twin girls reversed names…maybe as a way to feel better about her own red-headed childhood.

  6. In the Anne of Green Gables sequels, Anne and Gilbert have twins named Anne and Diana, but called Nan and Di. The name itself does seem a little too nickname-ish for me, although it is a pretty nickname.

  7. I had a Nana but we never called her Nan. I like Nan as a nickname for all the names you mentioned, but it seems too spare for a given name.

    Another Nan is the name of the goat in Tammy And The Bachelor, starring Debbie Reynolds and Leslie Nielsen.

  8. It’s a sweet nickname but Nan is what a lot of people in Britain call their grandmothers, short for Nana or Nanny.

    1. I don’t hear that so much in the US, but Nana, yes – it was actually what we called my great-grandmother, Anna, to distinguish her from her daughter. It must be fairly common, because there are always Mother’s Day cards for “Nana” on the rack.

      Anyone else have a Nan? I guess if you do, it makes the idea of naming a newborn Nan almost impossible.

      1. My kids have a Nan/Nana (Nan is the short version, as previously mentioned)… yeah, it pretty much does the name in… it’s all grandma for me.

    2. Yeah, it’s too close to ‘Grandma’ for me. I personally called my grandmas “Nanna”, but have heard many Brits say “Nan”.

      There’s a Star Trek: DS9 actress called Nana Visitor and I always found Nana very unusual for a first name.

      1. I thought of Nana Visitor too. I also had an art teacher in grade school named Nana, and I always thought it was strange.