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?

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. Pippa could work – that’s a cute alternative.

    And Jennifer, I think the interesting thing is that all three of your girls’ names would have been popular in the same era – there could easily have been sisters with those names circa the landing at Plymouth Rock!

  2. I think Pippa or Pia would be totally darling, Fuss. It could help sway me a bit more from the name I truly love for you… 😉

  3. I love Priscilla for her the same reasons others dislike her so much. I think it’s her over-the-top, sugary sweet nature that’s the foundation of her charm. Add her historical pedigree, and I’m totally smitten.

    What’s keeping me from totally committing is public opinion. Call me vain, but this is probably my last child, and I can’t help but yearn for a name people will easily drool over. I’m not sure Priscilla is that name.

    Also, we’re nn people..and I’m not crazy about Cilla or Prisca. I think if we went with Priscilla, we could possibly let a nn happen organically…but as a name nerd I want it settled. Polly? Posey? Pippa? I’d love opinions on that if anyone has any!

  4. I like Priscilla for someone else. It’s too frilly for me, but I would love to see it on someone else’s child. Prisca and Cilla are lovely, and the whole name has such a long history that it’s hard to dislike it. Super interesting post!

  5. I think it takes the right kind of person to pull of Priscilla in their family – someone with a real southern charm about them. So that makes it perfect for Jennifer or one of her brood in my book!

    It’s a bit frilly and fussy for my taste, but I’ve learned to start appreciating it for others 🙂

  6. I think this name can totally rock pending on the person who is using it. I think Jennifer could pull it off beautifully.

    I totally dig it’s old fashioned flair and it’s long standing history. For me those are two big elements that can make or break a name for me.

  7. I want to love Priscilla, especially since Cilla is such a darling nickname. You know I’m intrigued by Isannah — in “Johnny Tremain,” Isannah and Priscilla were sisters.

    However, I just can’t get over her prissy sound. She’s quite lovely, but not for me.

  8. I like Priscilla! Mind you, where I live now, she’s considered a great puritan name and I heard at least two different mom voices calling “Priscilla”! in the mall last weekend. I’ve heard one of those voices more than once (it’s distinctive, higher pitched and almost squeaky) so I’d be willing to wager her Priscilla is at least 2 & 1/2 but less than 6. The first woman I met upon moving here was a Priscilla. Funny too, how here it’s not Pris-illa, it’s Pri-cilla. for some reason it doesn’t sound as prissy here. Makes me like it a bit more than I used to. I don’t mind Cilla as a nickname either. Reminds me of Celia. Prisca would be a cute nickname too, I think. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be pronounced but I end up with something like pris-ka coming out when I attempt it. Pris-sa, maybe? Pris-ka reminds me of sweets. I think I like that better, wrong or not. 😉

    With his background being Mayflower-y, I fear Priscilla a bit for myself, thinking the family may think we’re becoming a bit too NE for them (most of the family is NJ/PA/CA or [these ones scare me] TN). I hear Miles a fair bit here too, for that matter. I wonder at the probable puritan influence, is it that or could Miles & Pricilla be just .. preferred? No clue. Whatever the case, I definitely like Priscilla. She gets a :thumbsup: from me and a “I wanna meet more!” 😀