Name invented by Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) for his friend Esther Vanhomrigh. It seems to have been derived from the first syllable of her (Dutch) surname, with the addition of the suffix -essa (perhaps influenced by the first syllable of her given name). The name became fairly popular in the 20th century, being borne for example by the actress Vanessa Redgrave (b. 1937).
English and Welsh: patronymic from the Middle English personal name Jon(e) (see John). The surname is especially common in Wales and southern central England. In North America this name has absorbed various cognate and like-sounding surnames from other languages. (For forms, see Hanks and Hodges 1988).