Nancy was first used during the medieval era as a form of Agnes, but became popular during the 18th century as a form of Anne.
But it was used as a form of Anne only because the other forms of Anne — Nan and Nanny — had fallen into disuse.
Why were the once-common names Nan and Nanny shunned in the late 17th century? Because they, like several other once-common female names (e.g. Jill, Parnel), had become synonyms for “jade.” Nanny was even used in terms like nanny-house and nanny-shop, synonyms for “brothel.”
So babies stopped getting the names Nan and Nanny. But “[r]espectable people, still liking the name, changed it to Nancy, and in that form it still lives.”
Makes me wonder if Parnel (a short form of Petronilla) could have been resurrected with a nifty new ending. Parnelcy? Parncy? Hm.
- Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. London: Chatto & Windus, 1897.
- Green, Jonathon. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang. 2nd ed. London: Cassell, 2006.