This is a feminine given name, especially popular in the United States. It was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift for (Esther Vanhomrigh), whom Swift had met in 1708 and whom he tutored. The name was created by taking "Van" from Vanhomrigh's last name and adding "Essa", the pet form of Esther. This name increases its popularity thanks to Vanessa Redgrave (born 1937), an English actress of stage, screen and television, as well as a political activist. The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a well-known colorful butterfly, found in temperate Europe, Asia and North America. The use of the name for people remained rare until the mid-twentieth century.