It comes from the Hebrew name Channah, which means "favor" or "grace." Though the name is traditionally spelled Hannah or Hanna in most languages, it can also be spelled other ways (e.g. Hana, Hanah, Hajna).
The name was fairly popular in the late 1800s, when baby name data was first collected in the U.S. But it slowly declined in usage from that point until the mid-1900s. It was in danger of falling out of the top 1,000 altogether by the late 1950s and 1960s.
But in the 1970s, the name started making an impressive comeback. Hannah broke into the top 100 in 1986, the top 10 in 1995, and reached the #2 spot in 1998. It plateaued there for several years before falling out of the top 10 again in 2008. Hannah now ranks 17th. (The drop in usage over the last couple years may have been fueled by the popularity of the Disney Channel television series Hannah Montana.)
One very interesting fact about Hannah is that it gave rise to the name Anna, which has been more consistently popular in the U.S. than Hannah has (especially during the mid-20th century).
Many famous women (both modern and historical) have been named Hannah. Here's a sampling, arranged chronologically by birth year:
- Hannah Duston (1657-c1736), colonial New Englander captured by Native Americans
- Hannah Glasse (1708-1770), English cookbook writer
- Hannah Cowley (1743-1809), English dramatist and poet
- Hanna Styrell (1842-1904), Swedish actress
- Hannah Hoch (1889-1978), German artist
- Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), German philosopher
- Hannah Szenes (1921-1944), executed for trying to save Hungarian Jews during WWII
- Hanna Newcombe (born in 1922), Canadian activist
- Hannah Weiner (1928-1997), American poet
- Hanna Holborn Gray (born in 1930), American historian
- Hannah Wilke (1940-1993), American artist
- Hannah Gordon (born in 1941), Scottish actress
- Hanna Suchocka (born in 1946), former Prime Minister of Poland
- Hannah Pingree (born in 1976), American politician
- Hannah Dakota Fanning (born in 1994) American actress
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