This post was originally published on March 10, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-posted on December 28, 2015.
It’s been worn a by a moon and a bird, a witch and a Friend.
Thanks to Breanna for suggesting Phoebe as our Baby Name of the Day.
Phoebe: Bright Goddess
In Greek, phoibos means bright. The original Phoibe was a moon goddess – grandmama to Artemis in some tellings.
In one famous story, Phoibe falls for a handsome shepherd named Endymion. Zeus grants Endymion eternal youth, so that the lovers will never be separated.
One of Saturn’s moons is named in honor of the goddess, making this a night sky name.
Phoebe is the Latinized spelling, and the English, too.
Besides the moon, it’s the name of a genus of evergreen trees and a small bird. The bird’s song is said to sound like fee bee, hence the name.
Phoebe: New Testament
If goddesses and growing things aren’t enough, there’s also a Biblical tie. In the New Testament, this name belongs to a Christian woman living in Corinth, often referred to as a deaconess. St. Paul admired her terribly, and the Catholic church considers her a saint.
Like many a Biblical name, it first became popular in English following the Protestant Reformation.
Phoebe: Shakespeare and Hawthorne
If your tastes run towards the literary, this name satisfies:
- Shakespeare gave the name to a character in As You Like It – though the shepherdess spells her name Phebe
- In Catcher in the Rye, it’s the name of Holden Caulfield’s little sister
- Nathaniel Hawthorne used it for a pretty country cousin in The House of the Seven Gables
My favorite fictional use comes from the age of rail travel.
Circa 1900, railroad travel was less than elegant. Enter Miss Phoebe Snow, a demure young lady unafraid to travel from Manhattan to Buffalo via the Lackawanna Railroad clad head-to-toe in white, from parasol to high-buttoned shoes.
She was once among the most recognized of corporate icons.
Phoebe: Small Screen
Miss Snow isn’t exactly a household name circa 2016, but you might recognize:
- Actress Phoebe Cates, a staple of 1980s favorites like Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
- Lisa Kudrow’s quirky character on Friends from 1994 to 2004. Kudrow won an Emmy on the mega-hit series.
- Beginning in 1998, we followed the adventures of three witchy sisters, all with names starting with the letter P on supernatural drama Charmed. Alyssa Milano played Phoebe, sister to Prudence, Piper, and later cousin Paige.
Phoebe: By the Numbers
This name’s heyday might have been pre-rankings. In the 1880s and 90s, it ranked in the 200s in the US. By the 1960s, it was obscure, and spent much of the 60s, 70s, and 80s beyond the Top 1000.
The popularity of Ms. Cates helped revive the name. By 1989, it was back in the US Top 1000. Friends debuted five years later, and Phoebe has climbed steadily since.
As of 2014, the name ranked #298 – its most popular in a century. It’s on track to rise even higher in the coming years, a Greek name for girls less common than Chloe, Zoe, or Penelope, with an appealing tie to the natural world, too. And yet, for now, this name remains relatively underused – a great, nickname-proof possibility for a daughter.
Do you think Phoebe will continue to rise?