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.
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
- Nathaniel Hawthorne used it 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
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. Think Progressive’s Flo. Or maybe the Aflac duck.
FRIENDS AND BEWITCHING SISTERS
In the 1980s, Phoebe Cates starred in many a teen favorite, like Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. By 1989, the name 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.
More recently, Nickelodeon gave the name to the eldest sister on their superhero sitcom, The Thundermans.
ZOE, CHLOE, PENELOPE
At first glance, the name’s rise is all about a bunch of pop culture references, from Ms. Cates to small screen favorites. As of 2018, it stands at #320, down slightly from a peak of #287 in 2015.
But don’t forget our love of Greek girl names ending with ‘e’, from Zoe to Chloe to Penelope. This name probably hits a sweet spot for lots of parents – instantly familiar, but far from overused.
Do you think Phoebe will continue to rise?
This post was originally published on March 10, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-posted on December 28, 2015. Additional updates occurred on November 9, 2019.
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.
Mrs. F says
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!
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 …
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.
This is so encouraging! Thank you! We are expecting our third girl and Phoebe is our frontrunner. Glad you’ve had a good experience.
Delta Xay-Lee Ressler says
I named one of my little girls, Pheibi Aubriella Treasure, Love this name…
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.
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.)
Charlotte Vera says
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.
I love Phoebe as well. It’s so quirky and cute. I’m really torn between the spellings Phebe and Phoebe though.
Caroline, I have a Phoebe Jane too — how funny!
Gen X-ers ask, “Like Phoebe from Friends?” Gen Y asks, “Like Phoebe from Charmed?”
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…
Lady Gwyn says
I really dont like Phoebe at all…I think it has something to do with the sound. FEE-BEE. It just sounds…ick. I’d rather use Portia or Penelope.
I think I could name a Duggar-sized family using just P names – Percy, Peter, Persephone …
P names & S names are the Duggar potentials for me. Is ‘potentials’ even a word lol? Oh, there’s a Phoebe Macnamara in a a Nora Robert’s novel. High Noon, I think
I am in the exact same boat. I love P names both girl and boy. You should do a special list on P names
One more Phoebe: in Mystic Pizza, the little girl that Kat was babysitting was named Phoebe.
Yes!! I always think of that sweet little girl in that film.
I have a two year old girl named Phoebe. I LOVE her name. It simply sings to me. Everything about it. I love that it is a name that comes with so much history.
In the beginning we got some pretty sketchy responses to her name. Half of the people seemed to love it and the other half didn’t like it at all. But I must say that even the people who hated it eventually started to warm up to it.
It is that kind of name, Meg – people don’t expect it, so it takes a few minutes to sink in. But it is a great choice.
And JNE, I love Fifi as a nickname.
Hugh Laurie on Friends re “Phebes”:
Fabulous! I love Hugh Laurie. Thanks, Photoquilty!
Christina Fonseca says
I love Phoebe and as usual, really appreciate your write-up. It’s nice to see a name from different angles.
British American says
I like the name too – only downside being I have to think a little harder on how to spell Phoebe.
I know. We do get Pheobe a lot. I just say “like Phoenix!” I do feel sorry for her when she actually has to learn her letters. It really makes no phonemic sense at all!
Phebe is also the name of the second female lead in Louisa May Alcott’s books Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. She is a young servant (and friend of the wealthy protagonist) who becomes an accomplished singer.
Interesting, Holey – thank you!
I love Phoebe! So much that my 2 yr old daughter is named Phoebe Jane! Funnily, it was my husband who insisted on Phoebe. It doesn’t seem like a “guy” name to me, but he was always in love with Phoebe Cates. I love it because of many of the reasons you stated. It’s about as classic as you get, though you don’t hear it often, it’s Biblical, but that’s not the first connotation, it’s literary, but not pretentious. I always feel like the odd spelling might be a little bit of a deterrent to many parents choosing it. (Although I think I told you of my horror at meeting a “Phoebee” at the grocery. Revolting!) Overall, it’s a spunky little name, exactly like my daughter!
I actually asked my brother what he thought of it and he says he always liked it . He’s 25 , by the way. I know what you mean, though 🙂
Most men look at me blankly and ask if we’ll have Monica and Chandler next!
That sounds like something one of my uncles would say ! Lol Men are different to women when it comes to names
Phoebe Jane is a great name!
Thanks! I think so too. Jane is my grandmother’s name. I love it as much as Phoebe…sometimes I wish I’d saved it for a first name!
I love Phoebe Jane as well, though I love my middle name, (it’s my grandmother’s) Jean. I love the way Phoebe goes with both Jane and Jean.
I absolutely ADORE Phoebe !!! Phoebe is vibrant, spunky, girly without being frilly, sweet & suitable to any age. It’s a dynamic name to me.It’s also brilliant in any type of sibset, whether it’s a subtle or obvious theme. I also really love the moon part, a I have a think for ‘moon’ names (I also love Selene & Luna). If you wanted a subtle, name geekey link, I think Luna,Selene & Phoebe would be really interesting as a sibset.
The Afrikaans spelling is Febe though it is said exactly the same.All of the nicknames are fabulous, even the ultra cutesy ones that usually make me cringe I like. It’s also popular in Britain (in 2008 it was ranked 26).I think the British celeb Tess Daly has a daughter named Phoebe.
Overall, it’s a name I’ve loved for years. It has a steady spot in the top & I could seriously imagine being the mother of a Phoebe. Oh, & I adore Piper as well – for years
I like Phoebe. A friend in England recently chose it for their new baby girl. I love that there are great nn options: Fifi, Bee (yes, I like it spelled like the insect), Bebe, and even Phoebes. The history is nice too. Yes, Phoebe is a name I could stand to hear more of.