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. I think the time is right for a re-run of Nancy! I am a Nancy in my mid-30s. I was named after my Grandmother, who was born in 1920. So neither of us were named when Nancy was most popular. I should see if she was named after an Ann, that would be interesting. Growing up, I did mind a little bit that my name was most common on my mom’s generation and wished to have a more trendy name. (Bizarrely enough, it wasn’t until I was 30 that a new hairdresser commented that she expected someone older just by seeing my name. That was the first time it occurred to me that someone might have different expectations of my age because of my name.)
    It is only now that I am truly beginning to embrace and love my name, and think of it as fun to have. I am glad I finally got here.
    Also, I was tickled by your comment above that you don’t know many Abbys your age–we are about the same age and I grew up with three Abbys and one Abbie. I’m still in touch with two of them!

    1. Only a month after you posted this, I birthed a baby Nancy 😀 We get nothing but compliments on her name, probably b/c we don’t know anyone who would say nasty things to our faces about what we named our kid. I love that she’s the only little Nancy out there, and that it’s a retro name that reminds me of the 1940s.

  2. Our family just had a little girl named Nancy Lane born this year! She is named for her grandmother. Her first name is Nancy and her middle name is Lane, but she goes by both. We live in the South, so double names are really common. I love how easy it is to spell and pronounce, and it has the family connection too. Little Nancy Lane is adorable!

  3. As a Nancy, think it’s really unfair to “dislike” a name. While the name may have peaked decades ago, I don’t believe that my grandpa discredited me by naming me Nancy (and for the record, I’m named after Frank Sinatra’s daughter, who is one bad-ass chick). I happen to like my name, and I am saddened when other Nancy’s approach me and say, “you’re not fat, old, or ugly enough to have the name Nancy.” I have fun breaking misconceptions about my name, and no one has ever compared me to an old lady. I also find it refreshing to have a unique name for my age among a sea of Brittany, Ashley, Jessica, Tiffany, Amanda, and Nicole. In high school, I had an awesome friend named Mildred. You want to talk about having a unique name? Ask her. I love her name and I love mine. I have a solid, American name. TAKE THAT Aiden, Ethan, Cayden, Landon, Braden, Sophia, Chloe, Amelia, Arianna, Payton, Asher, Mason, Brody, Mackenzie, Taylor, Gavin, Tristan, Logan, Cash, Bailey, and Brooklyn! MY COMPUTER DOESN”T RECOGNIZE SEVEN OF THESE NAMES! I’ve never had THAT trouble with Nancy!

    1. It can be tough to have a name that is slightly out of step. I’d be surprised to meet a toddler named Jennifer, but they’re out there. As an Abby, it is pretty unusual for me to meet another 30-something Abby – and perfectly common to meet someone with a daughter sharing my name.

      But Nancy, I can’t help but think that you “dislike” quite a few names, too. Many of the names on your list have histories far longer than Nancy, and could certainly qualify as “solid American names” – if there is such a thing.

  4. Meh, Nancy has always sounded scratchy to me. She has a very dated sound too. I do love the Nancy Drew books, but even then, I can’t say that it redeems my dislike of the name.