Origin: Greek and Latin
Meaning: “lamb; pure, chaste, holy.”
The name is of debated origin and meaning. It may be derived from the Greek hagno meaning “pure; chaste; holy.”
Likewise, it may be derived from the Latin word for “lamb.” Since the lamb later became associated with purity and chastity, the two above origins and meanings have become interchangeable.
The name was borne in Greek mythology by an Oceanid nymph, who was said to have raised the god Zeus.
On Mt. Lyceaus in Arcadia, there was a well sacred to her. When the region was suffering from drought, she prayed and fasted for several days. Afterward, she touched the surface of the well with a branch of an oak tree, inducing a huge rain storm.
The name was borne in Christian legend by an early virgin martyr who refused to comply with the wishes of a local suitor who later denounced her as a Christian. The local prefect forced her to go through several public humiliations before beheading her.
It was also borne by a medieval Czech princess, who was later canonized by the Catholic church as a saint. Known as St. Agnes of Bohemia, she is a minor subject in the popular English Christmas carol, Good St. Wenceslaus, and is still revered as a local heroine in her native homeland. Another saintly namesake is Agnes of Assisi.
The name was quite popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, due to its strong Christian connotations, the word agnes in Latin was also used in reference to Christ’s sacrifice, as in agnes dei, lamb of God.
The name was prevalent in England before the Reformation, and fell somewhat out of favor, until it was revived in the late 19th-century.
In recent years, the name has experienced a surge in popularity in a few European countries.
In Sweden she was the 16th most popular female name of 2007.
In Hungary, she was the 75th most popular female name of 2005.
Other forms of the name include:
- Agnesa/Agnesë (Albanian: the birth name of Mother Theresa of Calcutta)
- Inas (Arabic)
- Oanez (Breton: diminutive form of Agnes pronouned WAH-nes).
- Agnesza Агнеса (Bulgarian)
- Agnès (Catalan/French: pronounced like ang-YES in French).
- Gnese (Corsican)
- Agneza (Croatian)
- Anežka (Czech)
- Agnete/Agnethe (Danish)
- Nancy (English: originally an English pet form, the name has been used as an independent name for quite awhile, its popularity spiked in the 1940s and 50s and is currently considered dated. Another nickname used as an independent form is Nan.
- Aune (Finnish: pronounced AU-ne the first part is pronounced like how without the H)
- Iines (Finnish)
- Agenete/Agnet (Frisian: other forms include Anjes, Anjesse, Anyesse, Anjet and Anjette.
- Inessa/Nessa (German)
- Neeske (German/Frisian: initially a diminutive form, used as an independent given name)
- Hagne (Greek: pronounced AHG-nay)
- Agnea (Icelandic: pronounced ahg-NAY-ah).
- Agnéis (Irish-Gaelic)
- Agnese (Italian/Latvian: pronounced in Italian like ang-YAY-say. It could also be Latvian pronounced (ahg-NEH-seh).
- Agnesina (Italian: obscure form)
- Ines (Italian: a borrowing from the Spanish)
- Ágnes (Hungarian: pronounced like AHG-nesh). Diminutive form is Ági.
- Baranka (Hungarian: a literal translation)
- Agnė (Lithuanian: pronounced AHG-nay).
- Annis/Annice (Medieval English forms: both are pronounced the same ANN-nis)
- Agnieszka (Polish: pronounced ahg-NYESH-kah, the name is extremely popular in Poland. Medieval diminutive forms include Jagienka, Jagnusia and Jagna. An older form which has fallen out of usage is the Medieval Jagnieszka. Modern diminutive forms include Aga, Agunia and Agusia.
- Inês (Portuguese)
- Agneza (Romanian)
- Neisa/Nesa/Nescha/Nesina (Romansch: credit goes to Capucine)
- Agnessa (Russian: pronounced on-YEZ-ah).
- Senga (Scottish: an anagram of Agnes, the name is also said to be from the Gaelic seang meaning “slender.”
- Agnija Агнија (Serbian)
- Neza (Slovene: originally a Slovenian diminutive form, it is now used as an independent given name, pronounced NEH-zhah).
- Hańža (Sorbian)
- Inés (Spanish/Galician: pronounced like ee-NES, the name has become prevalent in other countries, it is used in Slovenia, Croatia, Latvia, Finland and Estonia, only in Finland and Estonia it is spelled Iines pronounced the same way as in Spanish. A French borrowing is spelled Inès.)
- Agneta/Agnetha/Agnita/Agna (Swedish/Norwegian: pronounced ung-YEH-tah, ung-NEE-tah and ANG-nah, these forms are considered dated in Sweden being replaced by the trendier Agnes. It is borne by Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA fame )
- Nesta (Welsh)
Nicknames include: Aggie, Nessa, Ness and Nessie
An obscure Italian male form is Agnesio.
Coincidentally, Agni is an Old Norse male name, also found as Ahni and Hogne. Snorre Sturlasson wrote about a legendary King of Sweden named Agni. He is known for defeating the Finnish chief Frosti and taking his daughter Skjalf hostage, who he later married and had children with. The name is believed to be derived from the Nordic agh meaning “spear point” or may possibly be derived from the word agi meaning “fear; dread.” It seems to have fallen out of usage. Maybe a you would be brave enough to use it on your own son ;).