Édouard Manet - Annabel LeeEditor’s note: This post was originally published on November 2, 2009.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on October 28, 2013.

With Halloween just days away, here’s a haunting choice – and a very popular one, too.

Thanks to Liz for suggesting Annabel as our Baby Name of the Day.

My rule of thumb is to use most common variant of the name as the post’s title – so the Baby Name of the Day should be Annabelle. Ranked #100 in the US as of 2012, Annabelle is quite current, while Annabel remains relatively obscure, at #519.

But pumpkins are on my doorstep, so I’m opting to use the spare, tragic Annabel of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1849 poem Annabel Lee.  Poe’s lament concerned a beautiful maiden who died too young.

The French impressionist Edouard Manet also used the name Annabel Lee for a woman in his sketches.  Sometimes she’s lying on the beach; other times, she’s looking at the shore.  It’s no coincidence – Manet’s drawings accompanied a French translation of Poe’s poetry.  Manet and the translator were friends.  The ocean setting is a nod to the opening lines of the poem: It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea …

Annabel ranked #467 in 1880, but she was headed towards obscurity by the mid-twentieth century.  It is difficult to say if she was more popular when Poe wrote, or if he plucked her from obscurity.  Annabelle made it as high as #254 in 1924, but she, too, fell out of use by 1950.

If Annabel and company are revival names, they’re less about the nineteenth century and more about the Middle Ages.

A pair of saints, one male and one female, both shared the Latin name Amabilis, meaning loveable:

  • In the fifth century, Amabilis or Amable served as a parish priest in Riom.
  • Two centuries later, a princess wore a similar name. She became a nun, and later a saint, in Rouen.  Records list her as Saint Amabilis, too.

Amabilis inspired the medieval name Amabel, the source of late nineteenth century favorite Mabel. Variants abound – Amabilia, Amiable, Amice, and Mabella were all seen, too.

Amabel morphed into Annabel sometime after the 700s, either because parents linked the saint’s name to Anna, or because of a misspelling. (Think of Innogen/Imogen.)

Others have argued that she’s just a lovely smoosh of Anna and Belle.

Regardless, she’s appealed to parents for centuries. It was rumored that the Duchess of York wanted to name her firstborn Annabel but was persuaded to choose the more regal Beatrice instead.

Famous Annabels have included:

  • There’s a jazzy 1920s song called “Annabel Lee” – but the song’s upbeat tone is very different than Poe’s poem.
  • Annabel’s was a glamorous London nightclub known for hosting Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and more. (The club was named after the owner’s wife, an aristocratic Annabel.)
  • Grateful Dead legend Jerry Garcia has a daughter called Annabelle, born in 1970.
  • Annabel Karmel has authored several cookbooks for children and families.
  • Actress Annabella Sciorra has had a long career on television and in movies.

The rise of Isabella boosted all of the -bella names.  Annabelle is the currently highest ranked, with Arabella at #245, and Annabella at #307 in 2012.

With plenty of nickname options – Annie, Bella, and even Abby all work – Annabelle makes for a very wearable name today.  Her steady rise suggests that we could be hearing a lot of Annabelle in the coming years.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. We call my sister Annie sometimes, after her middle name: she’s Ashley Ann. I love the sunny nick name Annie! However, for a real name, Annie doesn’t seem complete enough to put on a birth certificate, and Ann is much too plain for my tastes. Annabel is just right–and I love the Edgar Allen Poe connection!

  2. Yay for Annabel! We named our daughter Annabel back in 2010. So far, she’s the only one we know, though we do know an Annie, two Anistons called Ani, an Isabella called Bella, and a Bella. Our Annabel is nicknamed Bell occasionally. She introduces herself as Annabel, and the nickname is reserved for family only. I fell in love with the name through Poe’s poem, and love it’s somewhat quirky British feel.

    1. We named our daughter Anabelle in 2010.
      My husband and I couldn’t agree on a single girl’s name until I showed him Anabella (a concession as I’m really more traditional, he, more trendy). He liked it but without the “a” so we replaced it with the “e.”
      The birth certificate came back with the “a” back on it, and since we often call her Anabella, we left it. We nn her both Belle and Bella.
      If I had known how popular it would be in its many forms I probably wouldn’t have gone with it, but then she may never have gotten a name.
      I do wish we’d gone with two “n’s” but I don’t think we’ll be changing anything.
      It’s taking her a while to learn to spell…

  3. So nice to hear all the praise for Annabel, and specifically that spelling. I wanted something feminine with some history, but nothing too stodgy. Annabel is a bit quirky and has a sense of humor about it–just like my daughter. We wanted something with an Irish/English feel and decided on Annabel to appease a grandmother who couldn’t believe that I wanted to break with tradition and not give my daughter the middle name Ann. My daughter is now almost 4 and we really think the name suits her. We often call her Annie as well. BTW, if you are considering this name, be prepared for people (who have never heard of the poem or aren’t British) to ask you why you “made up the spelling.” It can be quite frustrating.

  4. My husband and I struggled for months to agree on a girl’s name (boys were so easy for us). We were thinking of Annalee (after a river in Ireland) but my father-in-law brought up Poe’s poem, and I loved the name. We wanted a classic, traditional name, but not one that 4 other girls in her class at school would have. So my 4 month old daughter is Annabel Lee and I thought we would call her Annie as a nickname, but we just loved Annabel so much, and that’s what she is…

  5. I came to this site looking for information about another old southern name (Eulalie) and found my own! My parents named me after the poem and people are always telling me how lovely my name is and how much they like to say it. I’m a writer now and I have always treasured that my name was from a poem (though I do always joke that I was named after a fictional dead girl who some guy was still mooning over).

    When I was younger, I asked my mom why she didn’t use the spelling “Annabelle.” She said it reminded of her a cow.

    I have never had a nickname. I’ve been called Annabel my whole life, and it’s caused me no trouble at all.

  6. Annabel is a lovely choice, but it does seem to be on the rise since its similar to Anna and Isabelle. I love the Edgar Allan Poe reference.