baby name PrudenceThe baby name Prudence combines an unbeatable virtue with a trippy 60s soundtrack and a 90s hero, too.

Thanks to Katharine and Catherine for suggesting Today’s Name of the Day.


We might call prudence the original virtue.

To be prudent means to exercise wisdom and good judgement.

Both the Greek philosophers and St. Thomas Aquinas counseled that practicing prudence would lead to the right course of action. It’s considered one of the four cardinal virtues first described by Plato, along with justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Today prudence suggests hesitancy. While it’s always been there – good choices require thought – in modern usage, we tend to over-emphasize prudence’s cautious nature. But there’s no mistaking the practical bent of this ideal.


The baby name Prudence sounds like a Puritan virtue choice, and indeed it was embraced by those intrepid reformers. (While no Mayflower passenger bore the name, it appears in use pretty early in the new colony.)

It wasn’t completely unknown prior to the late 1600s, through. There’s a Prudencie listed in the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources circa 1400.

And while Prudentia is tough to find in the historical record, the Late Latin name Prudentius suggests that the feminine form may have seen some use, too.


The baby name Prudence may have some history, but it’s never been a star.

In the year 1900, the name ranked a relatively rare #685. But by the late 1940s, it failed to make the Top 1000 at all. Since then, the name has remained unranked.

And yet, the name didn’t exactly head towards obscurity. There’s an uptick in the baby name Prudence’s use in the early 1970s. It really did teeter on the edge of extinction in the 1980s and 90s. But there’s a quiet, steady revival during the twenty-first century.

In fact, the baby name Prudence was given to 108 girls in 2019 – the most in decades.


Beatles songs includes lots of names in the lyrics, including current Top 100 favorites Lucy and Eleanor.

“Dear Prudence” was included on the White Album in 1968. The Fab Four were already international mega-stars by then, following on the success of several albums, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The song was written in India, where the quartet had retreated to take a meditation course. After all, it was the 1960s. While there, they met actor Mia Farrow – who’d become a major star herself in the 60s – as well as Mia’s sister, Prudence.

Prudence attended as a serious student. Perhaps too serious, the others thought, as she rushed from lectures back to her room to meditate.

John Lennon penned “Dear Prudence” in an attempt to entice Mia’s sister to join the group. The lyrics are literal – “won’t you come out to play?”

There’s something about the interplay between the lyrics and the baby name Prudence that feels predestined. Of course it’s Prudence who hesitates to join in the fun.

Like so many Beatles songs, it’s well-known many years later. It might explain some of the fictional Prudences from the last few decades.


Or maybe not. Writers from Evelyn Waugh to Enid Blyton used the name for characters in earlier in the twentieth century. 1962 romance Rome Adventure starred Hollywood heartthrob Troy Donahue as an American in Italy who falls in love with another American librarian looking for true love abroad – she’s a New England librarian named Prudence.

And sister signing duo Patience & Prudence recorded a series of modest hits from the 1950s into the mid-1960s.

But Prue Halliwell is better known that any of them.

The WB’s Charmed introduced us to three sisters, all witches by birth. The series debuted in 1998 and ran through 2006. It gets credit for launching Piper and boosting Phoebe, the names of the other two initial “Charmed Ones.”

Shannen Doherty played Prue. After much off-screen drama, her character was killed off after the third season, and a long-lost half-sister named Paige took her place.

Despite the series’ wild popularity, only the tiniest bit of magic rubbed off on the baby name Prudence. In 1998, 7 girls received the name. As of 2006? 31.


A few more fictional Prudences followed.

An animated Prudence plays a part in Disney’s Cinderella sequels, and Prudence was one of the many lyrically-named characters in 2007’s Across the Universe, a musical Beatles tribute film of sorts. (The hero was called Jude and they went with Lucy for the female lead.)

Since 1997, Slate’s advice column has been titled “Dear Prudence,” though Prudie has been staffed by at least four separate authors since then.

Jane Seymour starred in a 2011 made-for-TV movie titled Perfectly Prudence. That might explain a tiny jump in the name’s use that year.

And yet, the name’s comeback doesn’t seem to track to any single event.

Instead, it feels like the baby name Prudence feels so far out that it’s in, a name long neglected that it’s ready to be embraced by daring namers.

Prudence seems smart. It’s the perfect name for a no-nonsense district attorney or a pioneering scientist. With Eleanor in the Top 100 and similarly capable names like Maxine and Edith climbing, Prudence fits.

While the name remains rare, it mixes a lot of strength and backbone with a vintage, even whimsical, vibe that could appeal to parents seeking something completely different.

What do you think of the baby name Prudence? Can you imagine it making a comeback?

First published on July 16, 2008, this post was revised and re-published on January 22, 2021.

girl name Prudence

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 know it’s an old thread but I’ll my $.02 in anyway.

    Prudence is one of those names that you love or hate but are rarely indifferent to it. My little girl is named Prudence. Her name was picked by her dad and it’s after the Beatles song but I loved Charmed so I was happy to go along with it. We call her Pru and her big brother calls her Prudie. We love it.

  2. Well, my little girl is called Prudence and she is 4. I am so glad that we gave her this name as she is a little bit quirky and wears glasses. Very cute. We call her Prudy for short, she probably will shake this off as she gets older!

    1. Congrats Katie! I actually think Prudence is a wonderful name. I love that she’s a virtue name that isn’t really common (Grace) and doesn’t seem set up for failure/irony (Chastity).

      I would throw in Rue as a good nickname. Yes it’s from Hunger Games but it gets away from the Prue/Prune association. And Rue is such a noble, sweet girl 🙂 I’m still trying to convince DH on Prudence…maybe for a middle name?

  3. I honestly can’t stand this name! It’s way too old fashioned for my taste, although I do like some older names, and the poor little girl would most likely be teased for it. She’d be called “prude” or “dense”. Gertrude is just as bad in my opinion. They both seem like old lady names or dog names to me. I probably wouldn’t even use them for a dog. No offense to anyone who likes them.

    I do like Phoebe though. It’s familiar but so underused.

  4. With names like Hazel and Matilda becoming mainstream, I think you really have to go out of your way to shock people. Prudence still has that much coveted element of surprise.

  5. ‘rin squared’ – like it! 🙂

    I totally agree with dirty hippies comment Prudence is a “so wrong it’s right” sort of name. I would never be brave enough to use it (or allowed to for that matter) but love it all the same! I first started liking the name when I read The Land girls (it was made into a film too) – Pru is one of the lead characters and a more fiery, headstrong, impulsive (not hesitant) character you couldn’t hope to find!

  6. I’m usually only lukewarm on the virtue names, but I have to say that there’s something appealing about ole Prudence. I think that, because it’s so seldom heard nowadays, there’s an air of mystery and intrigue about Prudence. In my pre-Mommy working life, I dealt with a lot of lawyers and legal secretaries over email and I distinctly remember being intrigued by a Prudence who I corresponded with. When I found out that she was a mid-20’s, reasonably attractive, kind of party girl, I was absolutely enchanted with her name.

    There’s a “so wrong it’s right” hipness about Prudence . . . at least for me!

  7. Eeeew. No thanks! All I think of is prude and prudish, two words that don’t have happy, nice meanings. This is a hefty moniker, one sure to weigh down any carefree little girl. Hope no one thinks me rude, I am just not feeling it. Although the Beatles made a lovely song using this name, the name itself has not become lovely to me…unlike Jude, which really is great.

  8. Oh, and PJ? I wear those at night.. it’s not a particularly admirable nickname. 😀

  9. The character in ‘Across the Universe’ is quite appealing, actually. All the characters in the flick have Beatle names: Lucy, Jude, Sadie, Max(well), Prudence & Jojo are main characters and even Rita makes a brief appearance. I’m not a Beatle fan myself (by any means) and it’s still one of my favorite flicks. Anyone who hasn’t checked it out yet, should.

    Back to Prudence. I think she’s a lovely virtue with a pretty sound and if Pru makes me think insurance, it may be my proximity to Boston that causes that. I still think Pru is cute and Prudence is admirable. I’d love to meet hordes of Prudences! 🙂

  10. First off, woo Katharine and Catherine! Too bad we can’t have anything catchy, since the spellings are so different…all we have is like, Rin Squared. 😀

    Prudence! Not being a Beatles fan (don’t shoot me) my initial reaction has nothing to do with the song. In my favourite novel (Misfortune by Wesley Stace), Prudence is a haughty yet dazzlingly beautiful relative who takes over the estate and displays behavior quite opposite to what her name would suggest. So I associate the name with someone beautiful yet untouchable. I love this, but I doubt I would use it in real life, mostly due to the negative reviews it tends to get and the lack of good nicknames. Pru sounds like prune or prude, and Dency is one letter off from Dence, which sounds like dense. It just seems wrong to change the sound of the C to a hard one. :/ Hmm… this would be actually a great one to honour a friend’s mother; her maiden name was Proulx, pronounced Pru. That’s an interesting thought that just came to me. But anyway, Prudence is probably relegated to the middle name slot for me, but I do love it so.