The baby name Daphne has traveled from Greek myth to Saturday morning televisions … and now back in time to Regency England.
Thanks to Natalie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day, and to Bambi for suggesting the update.
PURSUED BY APOLLO
The baby name Daphne comes straight out of Greek myth.
She’s a beautiful nymph, pursued by the god Apollo.
You might know Daphne’s story. Desperate to escape her pursuer, she prays to the gods. They change her into a laurel tree, effectively thwarting her unwanted suitor – but at a steep price.
Some say Apollo repented, choosing to wear laurel leaves in her honor, and eventually bestowing them on victors in athletic competitions, too.
Maybe so. But in any case, we’ve long associated laurels with achievements of all kinds.
But we haven’t forgotten Daphne’s flight. In the 1590s, Jacopo Peri composed Dafne, a sort of proto-opera wildly popular at the time. It was just the first of several adaptations of the myth. Richard Strauss’s Daphne debuted in Dresden in 1938 and is performed regularly. Art depicting the story – especially her transformation – is plentiful, too.
But the nymph doesn’t just turn into a laurel tree. The baby name Daphne means laurel, making this a nature name. Or maybe a nature adjacent one.
In the mid-eighteenth century, botanist Carl Linnaeus described a series of flowering shrubs, known as Daphne. They’re pretty little flowers.
That means the baby name Daphne may owe more to the garden – and our embrace of names like Violet, Lily, and Rose – than to Greek myth, at least in early uses.
Then again, we’ve never really forgotten that the baby name Daphne existed.
Back in the mid-1600s, a piece of English folk music called “Daphne” existed. John Playford published all sorts of musical books during the seventeenth century, including The English Dancing Master, a 1651 work including “Daphne.” It was a how-to guide, intended for a dancing master to teach the steps to others. This suggests that the song – like most of them – predated the publication.
The English Dancing Master was reprinted into the 1720s, suggesting that generations of English dancers would’ve recognized the tune.
Whether future parents heard the name at a dance or in the garden, the baby name Daphne remained relatively rare.
By the late nineteenth century, that slowly started to change.
Daphne surfaces in the US Top 1000 as early as the 1889.
A series of early twentieth century uses might be familiar, too:
- Born in 1904, the Honorable Daphne Winifred Louise Vivian was among the Bright Young Things in 1920s London. She later became an author using her married name, Daphne Fielding.
- Her contemporary, Daphne du Maurier, was born in London in 1907. She’s best remembered for her novel Rebecca, recently adapted for Netflix.
- Jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt recorded a sprightly piece of music titled “Daphne” in the 1930s.
The name gains modestly in use – and falls, too – during the first half of the twentieth century. It never makes the Top 500, though, keeping Daphne in the company of relative rarities.
Peak Daphne comes in the 1960s.
ABC’s Surfside 6 gave handsome Troy Donahue a houseboat and a gig as a private detective. Donahue’s houseboat was berthed next to a yacht owned by socialite Daphne Dutton.
The show only lasted two seasons, leaving the air in 1962. But 1962 is also the year the name peaked at #266, a dramatic rise from #573 in 1960, the year Surfside 6 debuted.
A more enduring pop culture Daphne followed in 1969.
The Scooby-Doo crew included a bunch of meddling kids and a dog who helped them solve mysteries. The Hanna-Barbera series ended its initial run on CBS in 1976, but re-runs, spin-offs, live action adaptations, and reboots have continued ever since.
Daphne Blake is the red-headed member of the team. She’s wealthy and pretty, known for her signature lavender dress and heels. Early on in the series, Daphne tended to end up in danger – but as the show evolved, so did the character.
In 1969, the baby name Daphne ranked #362. It climbed to #335 by 1971, so perhaps Scooby-Doo gave the name a tiny lift. But it wouldn’t last.
BY THE NUMBERS
Instead, the baby name Daphne most often hovers in the 400s or higher. It’s left the rankings many a year.
The 2009 version of this post declared that Daphne was “one that might just rise dramatically in the next decade or so.” At the time, the name ranked #583.
It seemed like a safe bet. 2009 was marked by names like Chloe, Zoe, and Penelope.
As of 2019, Daphne stands at #432 – far behind all of those powerfully popular choices, as well as other -e ending Greek girl names, like Phoebe. Other possibilities, like Calliope and Persephone, are catching on and could eclipse Daphne.
The small screen has always given us plenty of Daphnes.
Besides the animated version, we’ve heard the name on Switched at Birth, No Ordinary Family, and Heroes have used the name for characters. Long-running series Frasier gave us the English Daphne Moon. Talk show host Daphne Oz is another familiar face.
But all are a prelude to the blockbuster Bridgerton. Shonda Rhimes’ debut production for Netflix was a most unusual choice. We know Rhimes for her contemporary dramas, but Bridgerton is set in Regency England. It’s based on a series of romance novels, narrated by the anonymous know-it-all Lady Whistledown. Think Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen.
The love affair at the center of the first season of Bridgerton involves a rakish nobleman – the Duke of Hastings – and the well-born Miss Daphne Bridgerton. It’s been a smash hit.
Could this finally transform the baby name Daphne from an also-ran among Greek myth names into a chart-topper?
The time may – finally! – have come for this high-energy charmer to catch on.
Do you think the baby name Daphne will catch on?
First published on April 2, 2009, this post revised and re-posted on May 4, 2015, and again on March 30, 2021.
I sincerely hope Daphne doesn’t catch on. It is one of my all-time favorites, and I have always dreamt of using it for a daughter. I would hate to see it skyrocket into the top 100. I like her right where she is, safely in the 400s, and ready for me to use without worry! 🙂
I love reading updates and seeing where names ended up compared to where you thought they would be.
I know a little Daphne who is nicknamed Dani. Surprised me at first, but I think it really works!
I have a neighbor who’s Daphne. She’s a college freshman so it reads as a bright, fresh, young name to me. I like it a lot!
daphne jayy. says
my name is Daphne as well. I truly love my name and really grateful my mom picked it. When i was younger i kinda hated it only on account of the teasy from the television shows such as Scooby Doo and then worst of them all… daffy duck. Gawd how i loathed the nickname daffy duck. But now i love the name and i’m truly complimented by this site. I dont meet alot of Daphne’s in my life, especially with the same spelling. I like how its rare but somehow known by alot. Yes i do lack in nicknames such as daff, fifi, phia and sometimes daffodil but besides that i havent heard anything else for it. Anyways to cut things short. Anyone out there thinking of naming their child Daphne go for it. Many are complimented by a middle name. spread the love. spread the daphne. <3 =)
My name is Daphne Gayle. (obviously) I always hated my name when i was younger because of the teasing, but now I absolutely love it. I wouldn’t change my name for the world. Having the name Daphne makes me feel unique. It is a great name and the teasing is the least of your worries. I plan on naming my daughter Daphne someday. I have had numurous compliments on my name. It is a smart choice if you ask me. 😉
oh I just love Daphne! I’ve never met one, so that makes it even better. Daphne is on my medium length list, but I’ve often considered bumping her up. For some reason Daphne is always paired with Fiona in my mind, I think they’d make good sisters.
Daphne is so light, friendly and well, smiley – you couldn’t not like her (please ignore the double negative!). It’s in the press in the UK today that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his wife are celebrating the arrival of their third daughter Petal Blossom Rainbow sister to Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo – I can’t help thinking that Daphne would have been a far nicer and lets face it, much less ridiculous option…
Blossom is just about ok and certainly fits with the fun sounding nature theme but I can’t get to grips with Petal and the whole combo of Petal Blossom Rainbow is way over the top! Sticking with their overtly floral theme, I would personally rename her something like:
Daphne Marguerite (inspired by Laney and Coolteamblt!)
Violet Aster (love this one!)
I love Daphne, I think it’s super sweet, and warm and inviting. I know a cute little girl named Daffodil, with the nickname Dafne. I agree with Tau, the Daphne flower is probably one of the most gorgeous smells ever, rivaling my favorite scent ever-Lilacs. Great name!
Laney McDonald says
lol coolteamblt, it’s funny we both mentioned Daphne Margaret.
I think it’s a great name. Girls should have beautiful, classic names instead of horrible, overused trendy ones.
Laney McDonald says
Daphne is awesome! Eric and I have it on our top 100 list. We are thinking Daphne Cassandra. We also like Daphne Jane and Daphne Margaret. Cassandra is after my little sister, Jane is after one of my aunts and Margaret is Eric’s grandmother’s name.
I love Scooby Doo so I never minded the references to it and Daphne and Fred were always my favorite characters, even if Daphne is a bit of a ditz sometimes.
Daphne’s a terrific choice. A timeless name that wears equally well on a little girl and a woman. I really like it, and I think it’s much better than Daria. For my money, Sylvia is even prettier, one of my favorites.
I was ambivalent about Daphne until I first smelled a daphne flower. It’s a perfume that makes you stop in your tracks and say, “What on earth is that INCREDIBLE smell?” Once you smell it you will never forget it.
Daphne is the only girl’s name we can agree on, other than Daria, which I’m not sold on. If we have a daughter, chances are she’ll be Daphne Margaret. I like the nickname Dav for Daphne. It’s spunky and cute, and I really like it, although I have to say, I like Sylvia better.
I adore Daphne. Really. I mean, I’d use her myself (Daphne means the same as my name so it’s rather honoring, in an odd way) But He sings “Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you” every time I bring Daphne up. *sigh* I don’t think she’s that bad, even but *gods* how I hate that song anymore. Scooby Doo permeates our lives. He’s the same age and I was 2 when it started. Neither of us can remember a life without Scooby Doo. And Josie loves it. We own all the cartoons & movies.
I think Daphne is lovely. Sweet, simple, and warm. I love her mythological link and her history, nevermind the Opera. I am a sucker for Opera names. I love their dramatic frill, generally. Her lack of nickname doesn’t bother me the slightest bit. So what? My sister & I are the only ones who go by nicknames in our friends circle, now that I think about it, Cecilia, Caroline, Sharin (yes), Florence, Susan, Nope, just us. Lola & Kitty (which is relatively new for her). So Daphne with no nickname would work. I think. Daphne’s aces, I so wish someone I knew would use it. I want a little Daphne in my life, somehow! (and I can’t do it myself). Maybe I should tell the boys? 🙂
Emmy Jo says
I like Daphne! It does make me think a bit of the quirky physical therapist on Frasier, but there’s nothing wrong with being quirky.
I love the name Daphne. It reminds me of the name Pemelope – Greek, but so quintessentially British. I know a couple of Daphne’s – both of them are around my age (17) and they wear the name very well. I agree with JNE – it would be good to see baby Daphne once in a while.
Daphne is so upper class english! Not much spirit in her.
I like Daphne a lot – it has a lovely soft sound. The lack of nicknames is the only fault I can find with the name. It would be wonderful to come across a little Daphne.