The story of Annis’s name really begins in the middle.
About seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my third girl, I ‘met’ a woman online who was expecting her eighth. Girl. Her girls all had lovely, classic names and she was seeking advice on naming her newbie. In the end, our little group of name enthusiasts persuaded her that her daughter’s middle name absolutely had to be Octavia (meaning eighth child). And so it was.
But I thought to myself way back then, if I ever had an eighth child, I would use Octavia as her first name. It is the loveliest of lovely names, but really only suits an eighth child. Of course, back then, that was a purely hypothetical scenario, because who has eight kids?!
I never forgot about Octavia, and when we discovered we were indeed expecting our eighth child (note: last time we were expecting, it was our fifth child. How is that even possible?) I said to Trevor, “You know this one is Octavia, right?” We both loved it, and for a while it seemed like it might be her name, but nothing is ever that simple with us and names. It’s a beautiful name, but what would we call her? We couldn’t seem to find a short form we both loved (or, to be precise: I liked several short forms and Trevor vetoed all of them) so it seemed we were back to the drawing board.
Reluctant to part with our long-beloved Octavia, we moved her to the middle and went in search of the perfect first name. If you are familiar with our Rules, then you know that this was no simple matter. One of the names has to be a family name, and reserving the middle slot for Octavia would force us into a Juniper configuration, with the family name first. It was a tall order.
Complicating matters slightly (or perhaps simplifying them? I’m not really sure…) was the fact that we didn’t really have one particular person in mind this time to honor, just a certain branch of the family tree that had been too-long-neglected. With each of our other girls we had honored first all of their great-grandmothers and then several special great-aunts, but when you’ve already named six girls, you begin to run out of people to honor! I asked Trevor’s mum for as thorough a list as possible of family names on her side, and then set about ‘working the list’.
I tried out female forms of male names from family tree. I tried smooshing two names together to honor two people at once, rearranging letters to make new names, forming nicknames out of initials. Nothing was sticking.
Until Annis. I was playing around with Trevor’s great-grandmother’s name Anne sometime around the halfway point of my pregnancy when I stumbled upon this lovely, ancient gem. It is (I discovered, thanks to this blog post) actually a medieval form of Agnes that was once as common as Mary but has been out of use for at least a century. As it happens, I have a great aunt Agnes as well, so she has a double family name pedigree! (It also bears mentioning that Annis is pronounced like Janice without the J, since a few people have asked for clarification there.)
I pitched it to Trevor, and he loved it. We both loved it. So simple, so pretty, so old. We loved the connection to the spice anise, the licorice-ness of it. It was perfect. We niggled a bit over the spelling, but I eventually agreed to Trevor’s favorite and he was officially sold.
We had several hours of blissful agreement before I happened to refer to it as “a family name”, to which Trevor replied, “It’s not a family name.” I reminded him that his great-grandmother was Anne. He said he didn’t even know that, and therefore it doesn’t count. “Nevertheless,” I urged him, “your great-grandmother’s name was Anne, whether you knew it or not.” Nope, not buying it. We could still use it, he said, but we weren’t counting it as a family name. Sigh…
This discussion, believe it or not, continued off and on for weeks (months maybe?) until we arrived at a tenuous agreement: Annis is sort of a family name, though slightly stretchy both for being a bit too far up the family tree to be super meaningful as well as for it’s questionable tweakedness. Octavia is also sort of a family name, since it acknowledges her special spot among her siblings. Two sort of family names make a pretty solidly meaningful name, and that’s good enough when we both absolutely one hundred percent love a name and agree on it. And we do.
For the record, we never did have a boys’ name this time around.