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.