Spotlight on: Agnes

Happy All Saints’ Day!! How about a name spotlight?!

Agnes was requested a couple months ago and I’m happy to be finally getting to it, as Agnes has always been the epitome of a sweet name to me, based entirely on a picture from a book of saints I had as a child of a sweet-looking young woman holding a sweet little lamb. (It might have been this picture, and I think this was the book, which my boys also love, and which I can’t currently find.)

Other than that, however, it was entirely off my radar as a feasible possibility for today’s little girls — being SUCH a grandmother name — until actress Elisabeth Shue named her daughter Agnes Charles back in 2006 (and let’s just sit for a moment with little Agnes’ siblings’ names: Miles William and Stella Street. There’s no evidence that I can find that Elisabeth Shue is Catholic, but her kids sure have some Catholichic names!) (Also, Agnes paired with Charles! I’d never seen such a thing before then, and thought Elisabeth and her husband were SO creative).

Anyway, since then I’ve seen Agnes pop up here and there, including two more celebrity babies (daughter of actors Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany in 2011 [who, weirdly, has a brother named Stellan — so similar to Elisabeth Shue’s daughters Agnes and Stella!] and Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ daughter Inez in 2016 [an English form of Inés, which is the Spanish form of Agnes]) and among Sancta Nomina families (though only as a middle name or under variants like Anessa and Inessa). But it still remains really rare, having dropped out of the top 1000 in 1972. Between 2000 and 2010 there were between 57 and 81 girls named Agnes each year, and between 2011 and 2018 there were between 97 and 232 girls so named (with 232 [2016] being the clear peak — more than thirty more than the next highest); 2018 saw 195 baby girls named Agnes.

I think the jump in 2011 is probably due to the first Despicable Me movie (2010) — adorable sisters Margo, Edith, and Agnes did wonders for their names! (The second came out in 2013 [2014 saw another jump for Agnes from 123 to 191] and the third in 2017 [which, funnily enough, saw a drop from 232 to 196].) Do you agree? Do you know what might have caused the jump from 190 in 2015 to 232 in 2017?

Anyway. Agnes is a Catholicky Catholic name. She’s like Agatha, but younger-feeling to me — do you agree? She’s in the Canon of the Mass. I associate the name quite a bit with my mom, as she attended the Sisters of St. Joseph-run St. Agnes Seminary in Brooklyn from Kindergarten through Grade 12, so a lot of her childhood stories involve the name of St. Agnes.

The similarity of Agnes to the Latin for “lamb” — agnus — has created a connection between St. Agnes and lambs that’s in all her artwork though, according to behindthename, her name actually means “chaste” (which is also lovely). The “lamb” connection is so strong that the Irish name Úna/Oona(gh), which means “lamb,” has sometimes been translated into English as Agnes. And one of you readers came up with the brilliant first+middle combo of Agnes Daisy to mimic the sound of Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God.” I love that!

Nicknames for Agnes include, of course, the adorable Aggie (which I know has its own problems for those who don’t want to associate with Texas A&M!), as well as Ness/Nessa/Nessie and Tag/Taggy. Some of its variants can lead to nicknames for Agnes too — I can see the Welsh Nesta serving as a nickname for Agnes, as well as the old English variant Annis/Annes. Speaking of old variants, I think Annis, Annas, Annatt, and Annison — all of which are English surnames deriving from Agnes per Reaney & Wilson — could be great ways to name a little girl after an Agnes without using Agnes, if that was important to the parents (and the nickname Annie could be used).

What do you all think of Agnes? Would you consider naming a daughter Agnes or any of its variants, or have you? Do you know any Agneses, and how old are they? Do they go by a nickname? Happy Friday!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!

31 thoughts on “Spotlight on: Agnes

  1. We had an Una this summer! Una Madeleine. As it turns out, my MIL’s first name is Agnes although she’s gone by Linda her whole adult life — she disliked Agnes as a girl, and we knew that Una was an Irish Agnes (my husband is half Irish), so that was a nice tie-in. It was only later that my husband pointed out that my middle name, Rachelle, also has the meaning “little lamb”, so that’s three generations with the lamb connotation!

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  2. I have a little Lucia Agnese, who will turn ten in January! I like the accidental connection to “Lamb” because she is my sweetest, most gentle child (I have seven!), so she is often called my little lamb.

    Emily

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  3. Agnes is an all-time favorite of mine. The Scottish Senga could be a fun “nickname.”

    I particularly love St. Agnes of Bohemia. Her life, legacy and connection to the Velvet Revolution is very cool. She was the princess of one of the most important kings in Czech history, but devoted her life to Faith instead of wealth and politics. She founded one of the only military orders est. by a woman and dedicated to healing the sick. It’s still functioning today. The 15th century phrophecy that Bohemia (the Czech lands) wouldn’t be free and prosper until she was canonized proved pretty spot on. She was canonized on Nov. 12, 1989 – five days before the fall of communism and the Velvet Revolution. I just love her story!

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    • I knew nothing about St. Agnes of Bohemia until reading your comment — she has an amazing story!! I love the prophesy bit, how cool! And yes, Senga — I’d forgotten about that! Thanks for including it!

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  4. Another variation of Agnes is Agnellina which is Italian meaning “little lamb”. It was the nickname of one of my patron saints (Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart). When we were pregnant with our son, before we knew he was Peter, I was very set on naming the baby Agnellina, if a girl, and calling her Angie

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    • I’ve never heard of Agnellina until now, but what a gorgeous name and meaning! And so cool that it was the nickname of one of your patrons! Agnellina nn Angie is pretty amazing. (Though I love the names you ended up with!)

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  5. I have a niece named Agnes. She is 15. When she was born/named I was talking about it with my family and said, “That’s an old lady name.” To which my teenage son replied, “It’s a dead lady’s name.” LOL – indicating how frequently any of us would have heard it. It really did feel like an unused name in any current way. Any Agnes I knew would have been very old – though I did come up with one middle aged as well. Anyway, all to say, I was not originally a fan of the name. But it was really become one that I think is very sweet and fits my niece well. She does not go by any nicknames. I am now seeing it occasionally used in our Catholic homeschool circles on younger girls so has gained some traction. I think it is a VERY Catholic name for the most part, I would assume that any little girl I met with that name was Catholic.

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    • I so agree, it’s a VERY Catholic name. That story about what your son said is hilarious! And I agree — back then I would have thought similarly! I’m so glad it’s on the rise, it’s pretty amazing.

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  6. We have an Agnes! We were having our sixth daughter and she’s the patron saint of girl’s purity so I told my husband we needed her on our team.😂He was on the fence because of how old it sounded, but Mother Teresa’s (one of his faves) birth name was Agnes so he came around. Our daughter is Mary Agnes Elizabeth (double first name) and we smashed the two names together for her nickname “Maggie”. I love her name for its classic appeal and also the kid friendly nickname that we got out of it 🙂 💕💕

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    • That’s so funny — the lamb connection and the depictions of St. Agnes make many (including me) think of it as a sweet name, but at the same time, I can see what you mean about it being “strong”!

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  7. I have that book too and yes, that is the image in it.

    Agnes is a family name for me so I had suggested Mary-Agnes as a two part first name so my husband could get to the ‘Maggie’ nickname he wanted, but it was too Catholic for him. 😆

    I know of one young Agnes.

    I have always enjoyed the Biz Markie song where he lists his friends as ‘Agnes, Agatha, Jermaine, and Jack’ so I guess it never felt ‘too’ old to me.

    Ovejita, like on Sesame Street, might be a cute pet name at home.

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    • Ha! Too Catholic!! I do hear from parents sometimes about names that are just too Catholic! I don’t know that song, but I love that group of friends, what cool names! And Ovejita is adorable. ❤

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  8. Agnes is so sweet! I was actually really surprised when I entered the Anglophone baby naming world some years ago and saw that so many people were saying that Agnes feels very old-lady-ish and dated. I can figure it out from the rankings but it’s always felt very youthful and fresh to me, and still does. Maybe I’d think otherwise if I actually knew or heard a lot of some older Agnes(es), but since I’ve never did, I think it’s easier for me to imagine a young girl with this name than an elderly lady. Also the nicknames Aggie and Nessie are so youthful. I do love the idea of Nesta being used as a nickname of Agnes. While it sounds so fresh to me it also definitely has a vintage quality at the same time. I don’t think I would necessarily use it myself if I had an opportunity, but it’s certainly beautiful. Personally I know briefly only one person with this name in this exact form and she was a Polish missionary nun, in her 30’s or something like that when I met her, so it definitely has a religious/very Catholic feel to me. I also agree that Agnes sounds younger and less stately than Agatha. The Polish form of Agnes is Agnieszka (ahg-NYESH-kah), which is nice overall but feels rather wishy-washy and overlooked to me these days, as it’s been in the top 10 in 70’s-80’s and not far away in the 90’s, so it’s more of a mummy name now. It’s still liked by many though and somewhere at the bottom of top 100.

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  9. Aggie is an adorable name and I don’t know why people would’ve want to be associated with Texas A&M they have a phenomenal Catholic student center that has a strong reputation for producing lots of vocations for religious orders and the priest hood as well as awesome Catholic endeavors.

    There also Aggies as school mascots in California and other states 🙂

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  10. My daughter, 5 years old, is named Agnes Cecile. St. Agnes was my confirmation saint and I loved the name. It is also her great grandmothers name which we didn’t know until after she was born.

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  11. I have a friend who seriously considered Agnes but we live in North Dakota/Minnesota and with many people’s accents here the pronunciation gets changed from more of a short A to a long, somewhat nasally A. Hard to type but if you know our accents you’ll understand! It’s a great name but i think my friend may have spent the rest of her life being annoyed that the way people say it sounds kind of…. sneery here. 😬 They chose something else!

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