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. I used to live down the street from an amazing family-owned italian deli and restaurant and the oldest daughter who worked there was Priscilla. Her sisters called her Prissy, and she remains the most beautiful human I have ever seen in real life. Totally one of those person-makes-the-name deals for me. Priscilla is a babe!

  2. My husband and I chose the name Priscilla Charis for our firstborn daughter. Charis means grace, and Priscilla literally means “from ancient blood,” so we liked that together it means “grace from ancient blood,” referring to the grace that comes from Jesus, the Ancient of Days.

    The nickname that we chose for our Priscilla from the start is Rilla, as a nod to L.M. Montgomery’s book “Rilla of Ingleside,” the last of the Anne of Green Gables series. Rilla is in itself a name that was in circulation about 100-120 years ago. Like some of the other commenters here, we of course loved the name Priscilla (and the story of Priscilla in the Bible, a woman who loved God and loved others) but didn’t want it to degenerate into Prissy. Rilla has been a great solution. Original but not tremendously difficult to spell or remember.

  3. My name is Priscilla! I have seriously hated this name growing up. People never know what to call me as a nickname, but they want to come up with one because Priscilla is a “mouthful.” My family resorted to Lilla, what my brother called me when was younger. It’s sweet, but it’s not obvious, and seems so childlike, I never share it with anyone else. My uncle called me Cilla, but most everyone else chooses something odd that doesn’t naturally come from my name. Example: Pea (which is actually cute when written out, especially with the fairy tale connotation, but come on, I’m basically being called urine), P. Silly, Zilla, Pris-killa, Prissy. Most of these are usually said light-heartedly. I have no genuine nickname!

    I’ve come to appreciate it in a sense, and I do get a lot of compliments. I changed my name for a year (to Abbey) and nobody, not once, commented on my name. I used to answer phones at work, and when I would say my name, about half the time I would get a comment, generally positive, but sometimes just, “That’s unique!” It’s it nice. I do hear, “What a beautiful name!” a lot. I don’t know if they mean it, but it’s enjoyable to hear.

    Oh, and, Priscilla is very easily misheard. People commonly hear Crystal. I’ve also been misheard as Drusilla, Ursula, and Cruella. Got the Disney villain thing going on I guess. And when people forget my name, they always conjure it up as Penelope or Patricia.

    Just some warnings for any future Priscillas out there…

  4. Priscilla has officially made it onto my short list as Priscilla June, indirectly honoring my mother in two ways: 1, she is, was, and always will be obsessed with Elvis, so I’m sure the King of Rock association is happily settled with her. And 2, June honors her birth month.

    The nickname I chose is Rissy. It’s a nickname that people can easily see where it came from, but it’s not Prissy. Cilla is nice, but not for me. Rissy is also more publicly known what with it being a popular nickname for Marissa and the likes. But when you hear me shouting “Rissy!” at the mall, you’ll be surprised when I follow it up with “Priscilla June!” instead of “Marissa!”

    For some reason, I always picture circus show dogs, the pink puffy poodles that balance beach balls on their snouts. (Talk about alliteration!) I also picture women from the 20s to the 50s — Poodle skirts, with white blouses, thick glasses, and a ponytail. So Priscilla = Poodle to me, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.