Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Agnes

Agnes is the Latinized form of the Greek name Hagnē (Ἁγνὴ), derived from “hagnos” meaning “chaste, pure”. Usage of this name is owed almost entirely to an early 4th century saint, one of the so-called “virgin-martyrs”, Agnes of Rome. St. Agnes holds the distinction of being one of only seven female saints (excluding the Virgin Mary) commemorated in the Canon of the Holy Mass (the other six are: Cecilia, Agatha, Lucy, Perpetua, Felicity and Anastasia). Born to the Roman aristocracy c. 291, Agnes was not only educated and wealthy, but she was also said to be quite beautiful and not without her share of male admirers. However, the “chaste” Agnes, a girl of about 13, refused to marry anyone, as she had already given herself over to Christ. One of her rejected suitors turned her into the Roman authorities, essentially “outing” her as a Christian (illegal in the then-pagan Roman Empire), and she was consequently condemned to death. Since it was against Roman law to execute a virgin, Agnes was dragged to a brothel in an attempt to deflower her. Of course, according to legend, the Holy Spirit interceded and all sorts of miraculous circumstances prevented her rape (she grew hair all over her body, the men were struck blind before they could attack her, and so forth). As with many early saints, a cult grew up around Agnes in the Middle Ages which served to spread the name throughout Christian Europe by the 11th century; a particular favorite among royalty and noblewomen. Adding further dimension to this age old name is the fact that “agnus” is the Latin word for “lamb” (so you often see St. Agnes depicted with a lamb by her side or in her arms). Agnes has been a highly popular female name since medieval times owing almost exclusively to this 13 year old saint. During the Middle Ages, the English originally rendered Agnes as Annis. Today Agnes is most popular in Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark), the Spanish equivalent is Inès and the French Inés (ee-NES). Ines is ranked #25 and #5 in Spain and France, respectively. Agnes is no longer popular in English-speaking countries.

All About the Baby Name – Agnes

Personality

OF THE GIRL NAME AGNES

The number one personality is a leader - strong and competitive. They are willing to initiate action and take risks. One personalities work hard toward their endeavors and have the ability to apply their creative and innovative thinking skills with strong determination. They believe in their ability to succeed and are too stubborn to be hindered by obstacles. Ones meet obstacles head-on with such mental vigor and energy that you better step aside. They resent taking orders, so don't try telling them what to do either. This is an intensely active personality, but they are also known as starters rather than finishers. They have a propensity to become bored and will move quickly to the next project if not properly challenged.  They are the ones to think up and put into action new and brilliant ideas, but they are not the ones to stick around and manage them. This personality has an enthusiastic and pioneering spirit. They are distinctly original.

Popularity

OF THE GIRL NAME AGNES

We have one question: what happened to Agnes? When we look back at the turn of the 20th century (i.e., 1900), we find that Agnes was a Top 50 favorite baby girl’s name in the country. Fast forward to the 21st century and Agnes no longer even ranks in the Top 1000 (in fact, she fell off that list way back in 1973)! Today we see a growing trend in naming practices that favor these old-fashioned favorites (i.e., names which were all the rage more than 100 years ago). Renewed interest and increased popularity in names such as Emma, Lillian, Alice, Grace, Rose, Pearl, Hazel and Elsie is quite evident. Yet there are several old grandmotherly names that American parents are snubbing today (e.g., Florence, Ethel, Edna, Mildred, Gladys, Gertrude, Bertha, Mabel, Myrtle, Edith and Louise). Agnes is one of these names covered with overgrown ivy and cobwebs. That’s good news for parents looking for something vintage, yet not too trendy or overused. While some might find the name too “saintly” (like it belongs on a nun), or too harsh in sound (like Agatha), we find Agnes to be a hidden charmer and a great choice for folks who like the classics and appreciate its historical value. This one’s overdue for a comeback in our book. Aggie, Nessie and Nessa are common nicknames.

Quick Facts

ON AGNES

GENDER:

Girl

ORIGIN:

Greek

NUMBER OF SYLLABLES:

2

RANKING POPULARITY:

N/A

PRONUNCIATION:

AG-nәs

SIMPLE MEANING:

Chaste

Characteristics

OF AGNES

Independent

Individualistic

Ambitious

Strong-willed

Inventive

Successful

Cultural References to the Baby Name – Agnes

Literary Characters

OF THE BABY NAME AGNES

Agnes Grey is the titular character of Anne Bronte’s first novel, published in 1847. Agnes is a humble governess (well, who among the Brontes’ heroines isn’t?!) whose indignities suffered at the hands of heedless employers are heart-wrenching. Agnes is employed by a series of heartless rich people who think their children are perfect; the children, of course, are anything but. Poor Agnes seems to have little recourse, and she is, in fact, powerless. To be young, poor and female in her time was to have innocently signed on for a life of hardship. The only solution was to find a man, which Agnes does, in the person of the good parson, Edward Weston. After the usual misunderstandings, they marry and live happily ever after in the finest of Victorian traditions. Anne Bronte’s own fate was not as fortunate – she got the governess part, but she didn’t get the man. Moreover, she died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-nine. Even marrying a parson would be preferable.

Agnes Wickfield is a character in Charles Dickens’ 1850 masterpiece, Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account), familiarly known to most of us as David Copperfield . Agnes is the “angel” of the story, famously always pointing upward, presumably toward the heavens. A companion of David’s since childhood, she is the epitome of Victorian feminine goodness and purity, tenderly caring for her father and stoically loving David while he lusts after the adorable (if dim)Dora and others. Patience and virtue win the Victorian day. After David and Dora marry and she succumbs to a fatal miscarriage (nursed by Agnes, no less!), David comes to his senses and marries the patient, angelic, sensible and long-suffering Agnes. And she, no wilting violet, produces not one, not two, well, go and count them yourself – healthy children. We are led to believe, in spite of all this, that Agnes lived happily ever after.

Agnes is the name of the baby stolen by gypsies, who replace her in her crib with the disfigured infant Quasimodo, in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Her mother flees Rheims in her grief, and the baby Quasimodo is sent to the orphanage at Notre Dame. In the meantime, having been renamed Esmeralda and happily raised by the gypsies, the baby Agnes grows up to live with them in Paris and earns a living as a dancer. She comes to the attention of the evil Frollo and is rescued from a fate worse than death by the kind-hearted Quasimodo. He, in turn is aided by her when he runs afoul of the law, but ultimately, they both succumb to a tragic end. The story has had many treatments, but perhaps it is the Walt Disney 1996 animated version that delights us most (and presents a happy ending). Esmeralda is as beautiful as ever, with her emerald green eyes, but she is perhaps a tad more independent and self-willed (voiced by Demi Moore). In this incarnation, both Esmeralda and Quasimodo are spared, he to come into the fruition of belief in his own self-worth, and she to a satisfying denouement in which she happily marries her true love, Captain Phoebus.

Popular Songs

ON AGNES

I Got It From Agnes
a song by Tom Lehrer

Agnes
a song by Donnie Iris

Famous People

NAMED AGNES

Agnes of Rome (Catholic saint)
Agnes Moorehead (actress)
Agnes Baden-Powell (founder of the Girl Scouts)
Agnès Varda (French film director)
Ágnes Szávay (Hungarian tennis player)
Agnes de Mille (dancer/choreographer)
Agnes Ayres (actress)
Agnes Nixon (creator of soap operas)
Agnes Carlsson (Swedish singer)

Children of Famous People

NAMED AGNES

We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Agnes

Historic Figures

WITH THE NAME AGNES

We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Agnes