The baby name Phoebe refers to a moon and a bird, a witch and a Friend.

Thanks to Breanna for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


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.


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 she’s considered a saint.

Like many a Biblical name, it first became popular in English following the Protestant Reformation.


As if ties to ancient mythology and the Bible weren’t enough, the baby name Phoebe also counts as literary, thanks to:

  • Shakespeare gave the name to a character in As You Like It – though the shepherdess spells her name Phebe.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne used the name for a pretty country cousin in The House of the Seven Gables.
  • In Catcher in the Rye, it’s the name of Holden Caulfield’s little sister. (JD Salinger names are quite current.)


Here’s another fun use: a fictional character invented during the heyday of travel by rail.

Circa 1900, railroad travel was less than elegant. Enter Miss Phoebe Snow, a demure young lady unafraid to journey 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. Think Progressive’s Flo. Or maybe the Geico gecko.

It turns out that Phoebe was an unusual name, but not an unreasonable one, for Miss Snow. The name ranked in 200s during the late nineteenth century.

By the year 1900, though, Phoebe was falling in use. It left the rankings entirely by late 1960s, and teetered on the edge of the Top 1000 through the 1970s and much of the 80s.

In other words? Despite Shakespeare and the night sky and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Phoebe was virtually unknown for a long stretch in the twentieth century.

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Except that also during the 1980s, actress Phoebe Cates starred in many a teen favorite, like Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

By 1989, the baby name Phoebe was back in the US Top 1000 for the first time in over a decade.

But the name really caught our attention thanks to Lisa Kudrow’s quirky character on Friends. The Emmy-winning mega-hit series ran from 1994 to 2004, and Phoebe gained in use. By the time the show left the air, the name ranked in the Top 500.

Then came Charmed, a series about three powerful witch sisters, fighting the forces of darkness in San Francisco. Alyssa Milano played Phoebe for all eight seasons, through 2006.

By the time Charmed ended its run, the name stood at #337.

It had also transformed, from quirky oddball of a name to mainstream favorite.


At first glance, the name’s rise is all about a bunch of pop culture references, from Ms. Cates to small screen favorites.

Another reference: Phoebe Bridgers, the indie-folk singer-songwriter part of the supergroup boygenius.

As of 2023, it stands at #191 – an all-time high.

But don’t forget our love of Greek girl names ending with ‘e’, from Zoe to Chloe to Penelope.

This name hits a sweet spot for lots of parents – instantly familiar, but far from overused.

What do you think of the baby name Phoebe?

This post was originally published on March 10, 2010. It was substantially revised on December 28, 2015; November 9, 2019; and May 21, 2024.


shining nature name

A moon goddess name, Phoebe is also tied to the New Testament, Shakespeare, and pop culture, a name with broad appeal.


#191 as of 2023


increasing in use


From the Greek “phoibos,” meaning bright

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Phoebe’s spelling is a little weird (as a non English native I used to think for a long time that it should be pronounced PHEH-bee or something like that, haha) but it does sound so cute! I like the sound of it and that despite it has no obvious nickname it has a lot of potential for nicknames. It is probably even better than having a name with one very obvious nickname because it’s easier to make people call you what you want – if you want to go no nickname, they won’t automatically nickname you and when you want to go by Fee or Bee or Fifi or whatever I suppose it wouldn’t be hard for people to get used to it and use this nickname straight away when they meet you. – I like all those Greek -e names because they are cute in sound, yet not overly cute, not immature-sounding, and at the same time very elegant. I also think Phoebe ages very well.

  2. Abby- What do you think of Phoebe to go along with siblings Hugo & Fiona? Are Fiona & Phoebe too matchy? I love the background of the name, literature and greek mythology make it a win for me. I’d love anyone’s thought on this!

    1. Ooh, that’s a tough one. On the one hand, they both start with the exact same sound – that feels very close. BUT they’re different initials, very different ending sounds, and while I sometimes hear one or both shortened to Fee, I don’t think it’s an automatic nickname at all. So I wouldn’t rule it out. Let me ask the community on Facebook …

  3. We named one of our three girls Phoebe Aurelia. I adore names with nicknames, and though this name doesn’t have a true nickname, we call her all sorts of funny things–Phoebs, Phoebe-beebee, Phoebola bobeebola, Phoebows, the list goes on an on.

    What I love about the name is that it is instantly recognizable and very uncommon. I have not run across one Phoebe at any play date, school function, anything! Yet, no one looks at you funny when you say, “Phoebe.” Occasionally, doctor’s staff do say, “Phobe?” but I suppose that will happen. Our Phoebe has a delightful, sweet, fun-loving personality.

    1. This is so encouraging! Thank you! We are expecting our third girl and Phoebe is our frontrunner. Glad you’ve had a good experience.

  4. Oooh, great choice for NotD — it made me go check the DMNES entry, and realize it wasn’t yet finalized, and so decide to sit down and finish it up. It’ll be in our next edition, hopefully coming out next week.

  5. My husband is obsessed with “P” names for girls, especially Penelope, Phoebe, & Piper. I like them all – I do worry about the rising popularity of all of them, though!

    (I’m one of those who cares about avoiding name trends, maybe because I’m a Sara without an “H,” who always ends up misspelled or having to use a last initial, due to being one of several Saras & Sarahs in every class, club, sorority, workplace, etc. I’ve ever been in! That being said…I do like my name.)

  6. I would never use Phoebe personally, but I do love the name’s subtle quirkiness (and that’s not do to any Friends influence since I never watched the show). For a very short amount of time there was a kids’ show — a cartoon called “A Touch of Blue in the Stars” — that featured a girl named Phoebe who went by Bee.

  7. I love Phoebe as well. It’s so quirky and cute. I’m really torn between the spellings Phebe and Phoebe though.

  8. Caroline, I have a Phoebe Jane too — how funny!

    Gen X-ers ask, “Like Phoebe from Friends?” Gen Y asks, “Like Phoebe from Charmed?”

  9. I love the “concept” of Phoebe and I’m usually a big on names that involve the Bible and mythology, but I don’t love the sound of Phoebe. It’s the bird call that’s ruining it for me, because in my head I hear it trilling away again and again…