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Vanessa Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

Learn about the name Vanessa including the meaning, gender, origin, popularity, and more.

Vanessa Overview

  • Meaning: Originally had no meaning, but is now the name of a type of butterfly.
  • Gender: Vanessa is a feminine name.
  • Origin: Made up by Jonathan Swift in 1708.
  • Pronunciation: “Vah-NESS-uh.”
  • Popularity: At present, Vanessa is a highly popular name for girls in most of the English-speaking world.
  • Nicknames: Ness, Nessa, Nessie, Van, Vana, and Vee.
  • Variations: Vanasia, Vanesa, Vanessza, and Wanesa.
  • Namesakes: Vanessa Barrs, Vanessa Carlton, Vanessa Hudgens.

What Does the Name Vanessa Mean?

Originally the name Vanessa was actually a nickname for the name Esther. The name Esther can mean either “star,” from the Old Persian word setāra, or “hidden,” from the three-letter ancient Hebrew root word סתר, meaning “to hide or conceal” (1).

In addition, the Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius named a recently discovered genus of brush-footed butterfly Vanessa in 1807, likely after the poem by Jonathan Swift. Because of this, most modern baby name books and websites will list the meaning of the name Vanessa as butterfly.

What is the Origin of the Name Vanessa?

Vanessa is a surprisingly recent invention for such a charming and well-known name, having been created by the popular Irish writer Jonathan Swift in the year 1708 (2).

He originally coined the term as a nickname for a lovely young woman named Esther Vanhomrigh. Swift came up with Vanessa by combining the beginning of her last name with Essa, a more common nickname for girls named Esther at the time.

Mr. Swift would later use the name in his romantic poem Cadenus and Vanessa, published in 1726, an autobiographical work about their time together and the love they shared. This was the first recorded usage of the name Vanessa in printed writing.

Since Swift created the name Vanessa as a nickname for a woman of Dutch and Irish descent, you could argue that the name is Dutch and Irish in origin.

How Popular is the Name Vanessa?

At present, the name Vanessa is very popular, both in the United States and worldwide. It first appeared on name ranking charts in the early 1950s and had made it solidly into the top 200 most popular girl’s names in the United States by 1953.

It has only continued to grow in popularity since that time and has rarely dipped below the top 100 most popular names in the past several decades (3).

How Do I Pronounce Vanessa?

Vanessa is typically pronounced “vah-NESS-uh”. This name has relatively few notable mispronunciations due to its simple and phonetic spelling.

Is Vanessa a Boy or Girl Name?

The name Vanessa is feminine, typically only used for girls.

Variations of Vanessa

Known variants of the name Vanessa include:

  • Vanasia (English)
  • Vanesa (Spanish)
  • Vanessza (Hungarian)
  • Wanesa (Polish)

Nicknames for Vanessa

Most nicknames for Vanessa are short and simple, breaking the name down into smaller parts. Commonly used nicknames include Ness, Nessa, Nessie, Van, Vana, and Vee.

Similar Names to Vanessa

Because of the name’s unique origins, there aren’t many names with similar meanings to Vanessa. However, names with similar sounds include:

Middle Names for Vanessa

There’s no reason not to go with whatever middle name you feel is most culturally or aesthetically appropriate for this name. Some popular choices in recent years have included:

Sibling Names for Vanessa

While it’s always best to pick a name that suits an individual child as opposed to simply matching their name to a sibling, there are plenty of names that work well in their own right but have a pleasantly similar sound to the name Vanessa.

Famous People Named Vanessa

Due to the name’s enduring popularity, there has been no shortage of famous or infamous women by the name Vanessa in the three centuries since it was first introduced to the world.

  • Vanessa Bell Armstrong: American gospel musician and songwriter, nominated seven times for the Grammy Award.
  • Vanessa Barrs: Australian veterinary scientist who first discovered the disease-causing fungus Aspergillus felis.
  • Vanessa Carlton: American singer responsible for the popular hit single “A Thousand Miles.”
  • Vanessa Erogbogbo: Ugandan economist and chief of the Sustainable and Inclusive Value Chains section of the International Trade Centre.
  • Vanessa Ferrari: Italian gymnast, Olympic silver medalist, and currently Italy’s record holder for the most decorated competitive gymnast.
  • Vanessa García: Puerto Rican freestyle swimmer, an Olympic athlete, and holder of a national record for her times in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle during the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games.
  • Vanessa Hudgens: American actress best known for starring in the Disney Channel’s High School Musical.
  • Vanessa Huppenkothen Labra: Mexican model and television presenter for ESPN Mexico.
  • Vanessa Lloyd-Davies: British doctor and the first female medical officer to ever openly serve in the RAMC, or Royal Army Medical Corps.
  • Vanessa Nicole Marano: American actress most known for her recurring role on the popular soap opera The Young and the Restless.
  • Vanessa Porto: Brazilian amateur boxer and professional mixed martial artist.
  • Vanessa Zahorian: American ballerina, formerly a principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet.

Vanessa in Popular Culture

Given how popular the name Vanessa is in the real world, it’s not a surprise that many fictional characters also bear this name. Notable examples include:

  • Vanessa Gold: A recurring character on the popular British soap opera EastEnders.
  • Vanessa Ives: A protagonist in Showtime’s television series Penny Dreadful.
  • Vanessa Kensington: A British secret agent in the 1997 comedy Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
  • Queen Vanessa: A major antagonist of the video game A Hat In Time.
  • Vanessa Van Helsing: The titular character of the Van Helsing television series.

Vanessa FAQs

Below we’ll take a look at some more common questions about the name Vanessa.

Is Vanessa a Saint’s Name?

No, there are currently no saints by that name.

What Ethnicity Is Vanessa?

Vanessa was derived from Esther, which is Hebrew in origin.

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