About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Nancy”

Jazz Singer Nancy Wilson (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 13th column, he discusses the name “Nancy”.

Nancy’s leaving the small screen next week.

“Nancy Drew,” the third television series based on the classic young adult detective novels, ends its four-year run on the CW Aug. 23.

Nancy was originally derived from Agnes. In medieval England Agnes was pronounced “Annis,” with nickname “Ancy.” In some dialects, “mine” was used for “my”. “Mine Ancy” eventually became “my Nancy.” Nell developed from Ellen and Ned from Edward the same way.

Annis was often confused with Ann. Soon Anns as well as Agneses were called Nancy. When literacy increased after 1600 and the “g” in Agnes started being pronounced, Nancy switched to just being a nickname for Ann.

By 1800, many thought of Nancy as being a separate name. That’s shown in the 1850 United States census, where despite most entries not including middle names, 2,411 women were listed as “Nancy Ann.”

The total number of Nancys in 1850 was 263,261 — over 10 times as many as in Britain’s 1851 census, when total populations were similar.

After 1860, Nancy receded. In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists start, it ranked 62nd. Its lowest year was 1909, at 118th.

Nancy’s big revival coincided with the fame of Nancy Astor (1879-1964). Virginia-born Nancy Langhorne married Waldorf, son of Viscount Astor, in 1906. He entered Parliament in 1909, but had to resign in 1919 when his father’s death made him Viscount. Nancy won election to his seat, becoming the first woman in Britain’s Parliament.