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On July 28, it will the 106th birthday of pioneering stateswoman Dame Annabelle Rankin, who was the first woman from Queensland to sit in the Parliament of Australia, the second female Australian Senator, and second female parliamentarian for the Liberal Party.
Annabelle was the daughter of Colin Rankin, a Scottish-born Queensland politician who served in both the Boer War and First World War; Annabelle was named after her mother. Her father encouraged her to travel, and when she left school, she went to China, Japan, England, Scotland, and continental Europe. With a background in community involvement, she worked in the slums of London, and with refugees from the Spanish Civil War.
Back in Australia, Annabelle was a volunteer during World War II, serving at air raid shelters and hospitals, and organised the YWCA’s welfare efforts for servicewomen. Her responsibilities involved travelling to military bases in Queensland and New South Wales, and she accompanied Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States of America, and Lady Gowrie, wife of the governor-general, on their visits to the troops.
After the war, she stood as a candidate for the Liberal-Country Party, and entered the Senate on July 1 1947. Annabelle was the first woman in the British Commonwealth to be appointed as an opposition whip, and was the whip in the Senate from 1951 to 1966.
Dame Annabelle was appointed Minister for Housing in 1966, becoming the first woman in Australia to administer a government department. As minister, she worked to provide housing for old age pensioners, and introduced a housing system for Aboriginal Australians and new migrants. As a newspaper of the time helpfully noted: “She tackles men’s problems too”.
After retiring from parliament in 1971, Dame Annabelle was appointed high commissioner to New Zealand – the first woman in Australian to lead a diplomatic mission. She supported several community organisations, including the Australian Red Cross Society, Country Women’s Association, Girl Guides, Victoria League, and Royal Commonwealth Society.
She was for many years the President of the Queensland branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and the Dame Annabelle Rankin Award for services to children’s literature in Queensland is given in her honour. Another of her namesakes is the Annabelle Rankin, one of the ferries on Sydney Harbour.
Dame Annabelle was easily recognisable from her auburn hair and warm brown eyes, and combined a cheerful, friendly demeanour with a strong, uncompromising will, and apparently tireless energy. She was an excellent orator, and very capable of handling the occasional heckler (by no means were all the hecklers male, either).
While researching the name Annabelle, I noticed quite a few people seemed to think that the name Annabelle sounded “unprofessional”, and predicted that a woman named Annabelle could never be taken seriously in public life. If nothing else, the career of Annabelle Rankin proves this to be completely untrue.
Annabelle is a variant of the name Annabel, which originated in Scotland during the Middle Ages. Although it is sometimes treated as a cross between Anna and Belle, this isn’t plausible as it pre-dates the common use of the name Anna in Scotland.
It’s assumed to be a variant of the Latin name Amabel, meaning “lovable” – the long form of Mabel, and close relation to familiar Amy. It may have been influenced by the name Agnes (“pure”), which was said (and often spelled) Annas at that time.
The Annabelle spelling probably has been influenced by Anna and Belle in the modern era, and is often understood as meaning “graceful and beautiful”. Although this isn’t very good etymology, the name is a bit of a hodge-podge, and you might feel free to translate it as you wish.
The names Annabel and Annabelle have long been favourites with the British peerage, both English and Scottish, which gives them a rather aristocratic air. I tend to feel that Annabel is a bit more “posh”, while others may think that the Frenchified Annabelle seems more stylish and “finished”.
Annabelle has charted in Australia since the 1970s, when it debuted at #580. Since the 1980s it has risen steeply, and it entered the Top 100 in 2000, at #92. It entered the Top 50 in 2007, when it reached #46, and although it wobbled a little here and there, it is now at the highest point it has ever been.
Currently it is #44 nationally, #35 in New South Wales, #50 in Victoria, #43 in Queensland, #47 in Western Australia, #61 in Tasmania, and #36 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Annabelle is also Top 100 and climbing in the US and the UK, but is more popular here than anywhere else, making Annabelle one of those unexpectedly Australian names. Annabelle is also Top 100 in New Zealand, but isn’t rising in popularity.
Annabel has charted in Australia since the 1960s, entering the rankings at #420, but while it also rose steeply during the 1980s, hasn’t become popular, and is still in the 100s. Annabel is only just outside the Top 100 in the UK, but is stable rather than rising, which is probably similar to the situation here. In the US, it is rising steeply, but only in the high 400s, so a long way off popularity.
Annabelle is a pretty, elegant, ultra-feminine name that’s well on its way to becoming a modern classic (while Annabel is already there). It fits in so smoothly with the trend for -belle and -bella names that it’s become quite popular, and may become more so.
Although it wasn’t originally linked to the names Anna and Belle, it might be used to honour people with those names, or similar names. Possible short forms abound, but all the the Annabelles I’ve ever met have only used their full name – it strikes me as one of those relatively long names that are somewhat nickname-resistant. There’s plenty to love about adorable Annabelle!
Thank you to Brooke for suggesting the name Annabelle to be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda
(Photo is of Dame Annabelle Rankin)