Even the most fairy-tale addicted, Owen Wilson-loving mama wouldn’t call her baby boy Hansel. But lop off the H and all of a sudden, we have an unusual and artistic appellation to consider.

Thanks to Bek for suggesting our Name of the Day: Ansel.

Ansel has several possible derivations, but only one truly famous bearer – the photographer nearly as well known as an environmentalist, Ansel Adams. The San Francisco native was named after his uncle. The trail goes cold there, though – Adams’ family is from Ireland and Ansel isn’t strongly associated with the Irish.

Here’s the list of possible origins for Ansel:

  • Saint Anselm was born in Italy, joined a monastery in France and went on to serve as the Archbishop of Canterbury, England. This surprisingly international medieval churchman wrote extensively and is still considered a major theologian. Anselm is a German name derived from ansi – God – and helm – helmet. A poetic reading of the combo is “protected by God.” His name was reasonably popular in the Middle Ages. Some suggest that Ansel evolved from Anselm, possibly as a surname;
  • A Swedish surname, Ansell, appears in the record, but the origins are unclear;
  • The Norman name Ancel is also derived from the Germanic ansi, and was once reasonably familiar;
  • The Yiddish names Anshel and Antschel, usually said to mean fortunate or happy, may have inspired Ansel. However, the usual interpretation is Asher, as in Jacob’s son in the Old Testament.

You might expect Ansel Adams to be a one-of-one, sort of like Django Reinhardt. Not so. Ansel occasionally appeared in the US Top 1000 in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1893, thirteen boys were given the name – a decade before the photographer was even born. In 1923, there were fifty Ansels born in the US – several years before Mr. Adams sold his first snapshot.

Anselm, on the other hand, has never appeared in the US Top 1000.

Further searching turns up even more Ansels, including:

  • Ansel Briggs, a nineteenth-century governor of Iowa;
  • Nineteenth-century Congressman Ansel Sterling;
  • Early twentieth-century governor of South Carolina, Martin Ansel.

Bridging the gap between the elected officials and the most famous Ansel, there’s Ansel Hall. In the 1920s and 30s, Mr. Hall served as Chief Forester for the Natural Park Service. He got his start in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks – the latter is, of course, the inspiration for some of Mr. Adams’ most famous images.

Overall, Ansel remains a bit of a mystery. His origins are fuzzy, and his use has always been limited. But through the 1920s, Ansel seems to have remained a viable option for parents – something like Edison or Nestor today. Perhaps the widespread admiration of Ansel Adams has made parents reluctant to use the name. But it seems like that’s the perfect reason to choose this appellation.

If you’re looking for a nature-tinged name and don’t want to go as far as Canyon, Ansel might be just the right choice.

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. Does anyone have any thoughts on whether this name will pick up with the appearance of Ansel Elgort on the scene? I’ve loved this name for many years, but I wonder if it’ll have a temporary “trendy” period in the next couple years.