Before 1980, this was an uncommon masculine name in America. During the 1980s and 90s this name steadily increased in popularity for both boys and girls, and from 2003 onwards it has been more common for girls in the United States. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, it has remained largely masculine.
In the English-speaking world this name has been occasionally given since the early 20th century. It started rising in America after the variant Lorelai was used for the main character (and her daughter, nicknamed Rory) on the television series Gilmore Girls (2000-2007).
This name has been used in England since the 13th century, though it became more common in Scotland where it was borne by several kings. In the 17th century the Scottish king James VI inherited the English throne, becoming the first ruler of all Britain, and the name grew much more popular. In American name statistics (recorded since 1880) this name has never been out of the top 20, making it arguably the era's most consistently popular name. It was the top ranked name for boys in the United States from 1940 to 1952.
Famous bearers include the English explorer Captain James Cook (1728-1779), the Scottish inventor James Watt (1736-1819), and the Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882-1941). This name has also been borne by six American presidents. A notable fictional bearer is the British spy James Bond, created by author Ian Fleming.
This name was popular throughout the English-speaking world in the early 20th century. It staged a comeback in the early 21st century, returning to the American top ten in 2017.
The name was borne by a 17th-century English queen and also by the second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn (the mother of Queen Elizabeth I), who was eventually beheaded in the Tower of London. This is also the name of the heroine in Anne of Green Gables (1908) by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery.
In England, this Latin form has been used alongside the vernacular forms Ann and Anne since the late Middle Ages. Anna is currently the most common of these spellings in all English-speaking countries (since the 1970s), however the biblical form Hannah is presently more popular than all three.
The name was borne by several Russian royals, including an 18th-century empress of Russia. It is also the name of the main character in Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina (1877), about a married aristocrat who begins an ultimately tragic relationship with Count Vronsky.