Katherine Heigl may call her daughter Naleigh, but she put this appealing retro moniker on the birth certificate.

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Nancy as Name of the Day.

Most baby books list Nancy as a nickname for Anne. Not exactly.

In medieval England, Agnes would’ve been Annis. Or Anice. Or Annes. Nancy emerged as a pet form of Agnes via all those variants. As Annis and company faded from use, Nancy attached herself to Anne.

For more than a century, Nancy has routinely given as an independent name. Perhaps that’s because Charles Dickens used the name for a sympathetic character in Oliver Twist. Or maybe it is because Nancy is found on the map in France. (Though the names are unrelated.)

Neither fact alone can explain the many modern Nancys, including:

  • Best known as Livia Soprano, actress Nancy Marchand’s career spanned nearly five decades;
  • Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan won two Olympic medals, but is most remembered for her rivalry with Tanya Harding;
  • One of the Mitford sisters was Nancy;
  • Court TV’s lawyer-turned-television host Nancy Grace;
  • Nancy McKeon played Jo on The Facts of Life around the same time Meredith Baxter Birney played Nancy on Family;
  • Nancy Cartwright voices Bart Simpson;
  • Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives – the first woman to hold the post;
  • Nancy Kassebaum Baker was the first woman elected to the Senate who was not completing her husband’s term of office;
  • Frank Sinatra married a Nancy and they named their daughter Nancy;
  • Former First Lady Nancy Reagan was one of the few Nancys born Anne;
  • Nancy Spungen was the ill-fated girlfriend of Sid Vicious;
  • Two musical Nancy Wilsons are Heart’s guitarist (sister to Ann) and the Grammy-award winning jazz singer;
  • Mary-Louise Parker plays a suburban mom/drug dealer named Nancy on Showtime’s Weeds;
  • Nancy Wilmot is a character in The Chalet School series of books;
  • In A Nightmare on Elm Street, it is Nancy Thompson who turns the tables on Freddy.

The average Nancy, has plenty of moxie, just like the best known bearer of the name: Nancy Drew.

Minor details change, but the character remains much the same since her 1930 creation. The amateur sleuth routinely solves mysteries that leave local and international authorities alike flummoxed.

The books are beloved bestsellers and frequently adapted for film and television, as recently as 2007.

But did Edward Stratemeyer – Nancy’s inventor, the man behind pseudonym Carolyn Keene – give Nancy her capable vibe, or does the name simply encourage boldness? Perhaps he was aware of two historical Nancys:

  • During the American Revolution, Nancy Morgan Hart captured a group of Tory soldiers in her cabin;
  • Nancy Hart Douglas served as a Confederate scout and spy during the Civil War in West Virginia.

After featuring in the US Top Ten from 1934 through 1955 – and the Top 100 most years until 1978 – Nancy has been on a downward slide. In 2008, she charted at #379 – respectable, but her least popular ever. The medieval Annis sounds more current circa 2009, but don’t count Nancy out – she’s quite the capable girl.

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. Good to hear from some Nancys who like their names!

    Christina, the Anna/Nancy thing has always intrigued me. My great-grandmother was named Anna. My aunt Nancy might have been named after her – but I never thought to ask my grandmother, and now it is too late. If we’d stuck with an A name for Clio, she would’ve been Anya, kind of sort of after my great-grandmother. It’s a funny little thread, but I’m wondering if some of those Nancys out there were named after an Anne.

    JNE, I agree that Annice/Anice/Annes is lovely, but maybe not quite wearable.

    British American, I thought of the slang issue, but dismissed it. Maybe that’s easier done here than elsewhere.

  2. I’m a Nancy and I loved sharing my name with Nancy Drew.

    I’m in my 40s and most Nancys I’ve met have been older than me. In California most young Nancys are Hispanic; it’s easy to pronounce by older generations.

    Should anyone want to name their baby after me I would think they would choose Anna or another variation of Anne.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see my name featured.

    1. That reminds me — my former co-worker Francisca, who was originally from Mexico, named her daughter Nancy. The girl was about nine when I met her, and it was disconcerting for me to hear Francisca call her Nancy. Meeting her and hearing her name didn’t help me at all in feeling like Nancy was a great name for a child. Sorry.

      If I were to name my daughter after my grandmother, I’d definitely use an Anne-name.

  3. I would love to see this over yet another diminutive Katie or Evie and the cute as a button Molly.

    The slang doesn’t concern me. The last time I heard someone referred to as a ‘flaming Nancy boy’ was from a man in his 70’s. I think you’d have more to worry about with the name Pansy.

  4. Good choice for the name of the day!

    I thought it my duty to speak up, as a bearer of the name. 🙂

    It’s certainly not what I would have chosen for myself, but it is a rather easy name to have. No one misspells it. No one mispronounces it. And, because it’s been out of fashion for a few decades, it’s relatively rare for my age-group.

    The slang term has never been a problem. I heard things like “fancy Nancy” and “Nancy pants” as a kid, but nothing worse.

    I’m not trying change anyone’s opinion–just wanted to mention that the experience of having an unstylish name really hasn’t been that bad, at least for me.

  5. I have to say, I’m pretty well in agreement with everyone else – I have an Aunt Nancy in her 60s and she’s fantastic, but the name – not so much. British American also brings up a good point about the slang, which does stand in the way. And then there’s the fact that it’s just so nasal with those Ns bookending the main vowel. It’s definitely not one that would make my list. Annes or Anice sound like preferable alternatives for honoring a Nancy… but maybe, no… I’m just thinking some dimwit might mispronounce as anus? Maybe we should just wait for a few decades, as Photoquilty suggests, until Nancy sounds fresh again.

  6. I’m not really a fan of this one. Makes me think of my husband’s Auntie, who must be 50ish – so I agree about it not being ready for a comeback yet either.

    And then I think of the slang: “Offensive Slang: Used as a disparaging term for an effeminate man, especially a homosexual man.” So that doesn’t make me think ‘pretty girl name’. 🙁

  7. Nancy was my beloved grandmother’s name, who passed away this Spring. She wanted me to give the name to my daughter, but I just can’t do it — one of my cousins said that she’d use it instead. It does sound horribly “old lady” to me, like Agnes and Myrtle [her mother’s name] and Ethel [the name her grandmother went by].

  8. I have to admit that Nancy is one of my least favourite names. Yes, when I was younger I loved Nancy Drew . . . but I did not love her name. I’m a fan of the Canadian TV show Corner Gas and it’s star Nancy Robertson, but that still doesn’t change the fact that I dislike the name.

  9. I agree with photoquilty — Nancy is a little too retro for me. Even when I saw that it was Mary-Louise Parker’s name on Weeds I was like, “Really? Nancy?” If Mary-Louise Parker can’t make me fall for the name, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

  10. To me, this is more of an old-lady name than an old-fashioned name. There is a line between the two! Nancy was a little girl in the 1950s an 1960s. I just don’t feel it’s ready for a comeback. Give it 40 more years…maybe 50.

    1. Interesting, Photoquilty – it just so happens that I have a Nancy in my life. She’s my brother-in-law’s incredibly stylish younger sister. This makes her about five years younger than me, if I’m counting right. So I have a hard time hearing “old lady” with this one.

      I also have an Aunt Nancy. She’s not exactly an LA-hipster like my sister-in-law-in-law, but less than ten years older than me, so again, I tend to think of Nancy as a reasonable choice …

      And Nancy Drew? Discovering Nancy Drew was one of those moments of absolute bliss. My grandmother had the entire collection … wonder what ever happened to them?

      1. In the B&N children’s section (where I spend every Thursday morning with Ethan listening to the story lady) they have the original Nancy Drew collection. I was overjoyed to find them there last week. When I was a little girl, they were writing updated ones for the 1980s. I haven’t seen those lately. But the originals are definitely still in print!

        1. That’s good to know! I might go on a Nancy Drew reading binge next summer … I usually re-read all the Harry Potters, but I think it’s time for a change.

    2. here is some girls name
      isabell ,bell,poppy,freya,ella,hannah,eve.erin,isla,
      mia ellakatie ,mollie dace
      lucy,tia.holly,charlotte,daisy ,katie,tia holly sophie,tina,ella,mia,ellie,chloe.jess,jessica,sienna ,