The meaning of Susanna’s name

19 July 2021

I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks the attention we give to choosing our children’s names is a little over the top. And they may be right :) But for me, someone who believes so strongly in the power of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, a name is more than just an identifier: it is the first lines in a story. And as parents, we get the honor and privilege of writing them. John and I can’t determine the ending of any of our children’s stories, but we can set them in a direction and give them supplies for the road – roots and wings, as I’ve said before. With that, here’s a little more about the name we chose for our daughter…

First, Annie. After we bestowed the name June, which had been my number one since high school, I kept a loose collection of other favorite names in a note on my phone, should we have another daughter. As I added and subtracted options over the years, one sifted to the top: the sweet but not saccharine, feminine but feisty, friendly and optimistic Annie.

True to form for my favorites, it would be at home on any of our grandmas (it was a top 20 name from the 1880s to 1910). It is simple to spell and pronounce, and is familiar but not too common.

Annie Banks-MacKenzie is a central figure in two of my all-time favorite movies, the ones that helped to set my expectations for a loving family and set me on a course toward my future career.

Annie originates from the English Isle and has a definite Scottish feel to it, which is appropriate given my ancestry.

And most serendipitously, Annie Jane is the name of John’s grandmother, which I didn’t learn until years after I fell in love with her name. I never got to meet Annie Jane, but love that we’re able to honor her through our daughter!

So, Annie. But the most common formal name for the nickname Annie – Anne – was just a name for me, without any further meaning or significance (and you know we couldn’t have that, ha!). I puzzled over this for years, until I finally realized that another name on my short list – Susanna – was emblematic of my maternal grandmother’s name (Susanne). Even if our Annie may not use it too often, I was thrilled for another family connection.

I think it’s important to remember here that we don’t name our children after perfect people, but after imperfect people who are a reminder of the story from which they come – one that’s far from perfect, but filled with people who try, who have integrity, who are kind and smart and humble and face challenges and pick themselves back up again and again. As crystallized for me in this essay, I strongly believe (and research backs up!) that one of the best things we can do for our children is develop a strong family narrative. (I wrote more about this in Shep’s name post!)

I’ve written about my grandmother before – she was a deeply layered person, and not always easy to understand. But so many of the things that define me were passed down from her – my love of garden bouquets, boat rides, singing in church, and reading and writing; a belief in thank you notes, correspondence, and a beautifully-set table; and the importance of standing up for the flag at parades, giving back to organizations, and supporting your alma mater. I look forward to introducing Annie to her in the years to come :)

Finally, Liberty! Our other two kiddos’ middle names spoke to our love for America and our love for our faith, respectively, and this one actually combines both. For a Fourth-of-July-week baby, we love that Liberty speaks to the hope, possibility, freedom, and opportunity that’s found in our country more than anywhere else in the world. America is not perfect, but her ideals (including “life, liberty, and happiness”) are beautiful, and we feel lucky to have the privilege of living up to them – and to help our kids do the same.

The idea of liberty and freedom is woven throughout the Gospel, too. Jesus sets us free from death, but even more than that, He has set us free for freedom! When we live with Christ, we don’t have to be weighed down by the comparison, guilt, envy, anxiety, or fear that are so common in our world. We love that Annie’s middle name will remind her about the life that is truly life – a life of abundance, obedience, contentment, joy, and freedom.

So there you have it – much more than you ever wanted to know about our little lady’s name, ha! Thanks for listening, friends, as always.

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Abigail Gray
July 19, 2021 7:55 am

I love reading about the thought you put into Annie’s name – thank you for sharing! I am also a fierce believer in strong family narratives; the article you shared had a strong impact on me when I first read it. Though I am several years away from having my own kids, I love thinking about favorite names and how they tie into my family history and values. This is also top of mind me for wedding planning. Though some (many!) would say I am overthinking some of the details (and they would be right, too), I know those details will connect me to where I have come from and the legacy we hope to create together :)

July 19, 2021 9:42 am

These are always, always, always my favorite posts of yours. Can’t wait to meet little Annie!

July 19, 2021 10:30 am

I always look forward to these posts about how you and John decide on each of your children’s names. Thank you for sharing the meaning behind Annie’s name and the thought process behind your choices!

July 19, 2021 2:10 pm

Perfection. I love every bit of this.

July 19, 2021 2:28 pm

Love this so much!!

July 19, 2021 2:29 pm

You know I have been looking forward to the whole story!! I love the intention you and John pour into such an important decision. Cannot wait to see the ways Annie lives out her namesakes, and even more, what she adds to them in her own special ways!

Mackenzie McGrath
July 19, 2021 3:58 pm

Love how thoughtful you are with naming! We named our daughter Liberty June, so I’m quite partial to Annie’s middle name ;) She is beautiful!

July 19, 2021 6:40 pm

Beautiful post, beautiful name! I love the meaning behind it all. We tried to do the same with our children’s names, and the stories make the names so special! God bless you and your sweet new daughter! :)

July 19, 2021 11:13 pm

So sweet!! I love the creativity and thought you put into it, including the nicknames. Just had my first baby 1 week ago (July 13!) and totally had the same goal of an old name that’s recognizable but uncommon. We named him Arthur Thomas. Arthur means noble, courageous, and strong as a bear. We lived in France for a couple years and hope to again, and Arthur works great in both languages. Both my mom’s and my husband’s mom’s fathers were named Thomas, so that felt really special to use as a middle name! (We almost picked Dean which doesn’t have any significant meaning but would have sounded nice and strong.) We waited until we met him/knew him a day before deciding on the name – we had several choices but needed to see what name fit him. It’s so fun finally calling him by a name after so many months in my womb of being “baby guy” haha.

July 22, 2021 7:30 am

WOW!! This is absolutely beautiful – we also give a lot of thought and consideration, and sentiment to our kids names… This is so beautiful x

July 23, 2021 10:28 am

I absolutely loved this post! The article that you linked about the strong family narrative, as well as your reflections on how we help to write the first lines of a person’s story with their name, really resonated with me. And so did your reasons for choosing the name Annie/Susanna. My second daughter — who turns one on Sunday! — is named Franny/Frances, and I share a lot of your reasons for having chosen the name. I loved how you phrased it: sweet but not saccharine, feminine but feisty, friendly and optimistic. YES! To all of that! I also loved that you mentioned Annie Banks Mackenzie. Both of our daughters’ names (Esther and Franny) were in part inspired by favorite fictional characters of mine (Esther is the protagonist of Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar, and Franny of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey). Yay for naming!

July 27, 2021 3:50 pm

Congratulations and what a wonderful story behind the name. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl! If you are inclined to share, I’m dying to know what your other names were!