Here at ApMtn, we often discover that names we’ve always considered reasonably mainstream are actually quite rare. Today’s choice is the opposite – far more classic and enduring than many of us imagine.
Thanks to Jennifer for suggesting our Name of the Day: Priscilla.
Priscilla is undeniably feminine, even lacy. But her history takes us all the way back to the Ancient World, and to some impressive bearers of the name.
Originally a diminutive of Prisca, this one was worn by plenty of noble Romans back in the day. Prisca and the masculine version, Priscus, both stem from a word meaning old or ancient – but most agree that it was probably bestowed as a wish for long life.
The New Testament tells us of early Christian converts Priscilla and Aquila. The married couple worked closely with Paul in his outreach. Both are considered saints. In an era when women sometimes went unnamed, it even appears that Priscilla may have been the more influential of the duo – scholars sometimes point out that her name is usually mentioned first.
Two other Priscas figure in the early history of the Church. The Emperor Diocletian’s wife was Prisca. Legend has it that she herself was either sympathetic to Christianity or perhaps even a secret convert. But she never publicly defied her husband’s crackdown on the faithful.
One of Diocletian’s victims may well have been a young Roman woman named Prisca. Tradition tells us that she suffered some extraordinarily gory torments and still lived until one of her persecutors eventually thought to lop off her head. Her church still stands in Rome, though her history cannot be verified.
Sometime after 300, the name died out. The Puritans, inspired by the early Christian convert, revived it for their daughters and Priscilla has been going strong ever since.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow borrowed the names of real Pilgrims, including Priscilla Mullins, for his 1858 poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” While most believe Longfellow’s tale is fictional, some say otherwise.
By the late 19th century, Priscilla was in steady rotation, usually ranking in the 300s in the US. Many years – including 1938 to 1952 and 1980 to 1994 – she’s been in the Top 200. Today she stands at #375. Overall, she’s far more popular than we’d expected, never even approaching obscurity.
One bearer of the name served as First Lady. President Tyler’s daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler served as official White House hostess from 1842 to 1844.
In the 20th century, Priscilla Presley has kept the name in the public eye. She’s the former wife of Elvis and an actress in her own right.
One other pop culture reference springs to mind. The 1994 cult classic film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, featured a trio of drag queens crossing the Australian outback in a bus. The bus was called Priscilla.
If Priscilla has any marks against her, it’s the temptation to call her Prissy. Cilla, or even Prill, seem like better options. While this choice would probably surprise your friends and family, a little Priscilla would toddle off to nursery school with Amelia and Arianna – she’d fit right in. There’s also been an uptick in interest in ancient names. If Octavia and Aurelia are contenders, why not the gentler Priscilla?