He strikes many as nouveau, but his roots go back to Ancient Greece.
Thanks to Sara for suggesting Phoenix as our Baby Name of the Day.
Message boards sometimes dismiss Phoenix as a non-name, but that’s not really correct. There were at least two separate bearers of the name in Greek myth, both warriors, both mentioned in the Iliad.
The mythical bird is at least as old as the given name, and far more universal. Many cultures tell of a bird that, after a long life, dies and is reborn in flame.
The exact evolution of the name is murky. It could refer to the Phoenicians, the great traders of the ancient world, or possibly to phoinios, the Greek word for a color. (Among other wares, the Phoenicians were known for their dyes.)
Somewhere out of that soup, the Phoenicians got their name, as did our mythical bird, a symbol of rebirth and renewal. A few of the more famous uses include:
- The city in Arizona was named Phoenix because the settlers built their community atop a long-abandoned Native American settlement;
- Kids know the story thanks to Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore’s loyal pet phoenix in the Harry Potter series;
- Jean Grey is a member of the X-Men and uses the alias Phoenix, in part because she re-generated. In the movies, she’s been played by Famke Jannsen – and she’s not always a good guy;
- Most recently, the rescue capsule used to bring the trapped Chilean miners to safety was named the Fenix.
There are plenty of literary references, too, but we can’t overlook Hollywood’s influence.
River Jude Bottom was born to globe-trotting hippies. His family renamed themselves Phoenix in honor of the bird when River was five. A few years later, young River Phoenix was making regular television appearances, and shortly after, feature films. 1986’s Stand By Me was his breakout role, and two years later he was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor in Running On Empty. More success followed, but the story ends in a tragedy. On October 30, 1993, Phoenix overdosed at Hollywood’s Viper Room. He died in the early morning hours of October 31, aged just 23.
The talented young actor should get credit for putting two names in play. In 1994, River debuted in the US Top 1000 for boys at #923, and has since climbed to #436.
Phoenix followed, making his debut in 1995. By last year he was up to #381 for boys.
In 1999, Spice Girl Mel B. gave the name to a daughter. Phoenix has been catching on for girls in the US, too, climbing to #668 in 2010.
It is easy to see why the name appeals:
- With ties to mythology and the map, Phoenix is very on trend;
- The name comes by its unusual spelling honestly;
- Nicknames include Fifi for girls and Nix or Nicky for either gender;
- From Felix to Xanthe, names with an x hold a special appeal.
Phoenix makes a dramatic name for a son or a daughter. It is perfectly wearable today, but might be best anchored with a classic middle name, lest your child sound too much like a space ship or superhero.
When I was 8 weeks pregnant I decided that if I was having a boy his name would be Phoenix Reign because it literally means to rise and to rule and it sounded so powerful. I ended up with an amazing little boy and I stuck with that name through my entire pregnancy because it felt like it was him. His nickname to me is Finn, to his aunt it’s Nix. His dad didn’t like that I named him Phoenix because he said the kids at school would call him Fifi but the kids call him Finn, Finn Finn, or Nix so it worked out.
Ali A says
I love the nick name Phinn (Finn) for Phoenix boys!
The phoenix is also a powerful symbol of womanhood, femininity, and the empress in many East Asian cultures. In China, the symbol of a phoenix is used to represent the bride in the wedding clothes, ceremony, etc. The character for ‘phoenix’ is also commonly used in girls names, although it is seen as quite old-fashioned now. I honestly find this name to be quite feminine. The dragon is the sign of the emperor and masculinity.
We named our son Phoenix Winston and in just a few short months since being born he has lined up to the name! And for fun we’ve nicknamed him PDubbs. It’s something my husband and I came up with and moved. It’s strong, unique, and carries well. Only one person has said they didn’t care for the name but most people love it.
So my name is Phoenix, and everyone who meets me thinks my name is unique. I love my name and it goes with my middle name, Phoenix Joy. I think if your going to name your child Phoenix I think it’s a good idea.
We love the name and have decided to name our son Phoenix. He is due in December. We went back and forth on naming him but have definitely decided on Phoenix. Now all we need is a middle name, any suggestions? We have two daughters named Miranda Danielle and Kennedy Michelle. Miranda got her middle name from my dad Daniel who passed away 3weeks prior to her being born. Kennedy’s middle name is after her my husband Michael. To us boys are harder to name. Please help!
My daughters name is phoenixx symone and everyone loves it her dad named her and I was so skeptical at first but now I love it! I think phoenix is a beautiful name.
My older sons name is Phoenix Xavier. I took Latin for six years and loved the mythology associated with the name. My husband and I thought it was fitting for our first child since from us a new life was emerging. We’ve had friends try calling him Fifi but we quickly ended that, too feminine and too canine sounding. And Nix is a terrible nickname also. We just call him P.
And my 9 yr old picked Phoenix for us [we’re not decided yet] and also said that he’d used the nickname ‘Fox’ for the baby…I thought that was pretty clever, and a reminder that it can be a phonetic nickname, not only a literal first or last syllable based one.
Phoenix is a great name-i just feel it may now be in that ‘tryndy’ category of place names and odd spellings….even if we choose it for the greek myth meaning. [other child is named Ares, also greek, so we’d like to stick with that.]
My sons Name is Phoenix Andrew…It fits him perfectly…I would not or could not see him any other way…his name is powerful…it means transformation and rising from whatever might consume you new in birth…I don’t care about The Phoenix Family or the American Cancer society…The real meaning of the Phoenix has been around thousands of years longer and super seeds all that non-sense it has an amazing meaning…some people name there children really stupid meanings of names…like did you know the name Cameron means crooked nose!!! And it one of the most popular names out there…that’s just dumb…Phoenix is an awesome name.
nicole in paris says
Yes! Love your comment.
My son’s name is Phoenix Robert. Everybody says they love the name… I can’t imagine him as any other name. But, it did take a while for me to settle on that name. It was beween Reese or Adam.
Phoenix is ok for me, not something I’d use, but kind of cute. Out of mythology/legendary creeatures though, I’d rather do Gryphon.
I went to school with someone called Fenice, and never imagined her name meant “phoenix”; it did seem exotic though. She was very pretty and quite nice, but rather dim-witted. Ever since it’s struck me as the name of someone who’s decorative but perfectly useless. There is a Fenice in Arthurian legends as well – a queen of Ireland.
I have an exceptionally nasty Aunt who lives in Phoenix and my impression of the name is of a petty woman living in a dirty, dusty place. I want to say NO NO NO do not name a child Phoenix!
However, just looking at the name the mythology is fantastic and I can see the appeal. I personally wouldn’t use the name and I think it works better as a middle name, but it’s got some interesting symbolism behind it.
Fenice reminds me too much of Fennec Foxes.
Lady Gwyn says
My best friend’s youngest daughter’s name is Aspen Phoenix. They were chosen for some connection to a comic book, and although my friend told me which one, I don’t remember! (If anyone knows, feel free to comment.) I thought it was odd when I first heard it, but it has grown on me since she was born. Also, she’s adorable!
My friend said they did notice the city connection, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to them when they realized it. It is, however, the first thing people ask about now when they hear both of her names.
I really love this name and am considering it. However, in my case, I would be naming after the city in Arizona (although grateful that it does have nice mythological, literary and historical associations as well to give it some depth).
It seems like a winner of a name that pleases (or doesn’t horibly displease) most people.
Might also consider the name Arizona … 😉
Hi! Thanks for posting this name! I’m twelve weeks pregnant and Phoenix is definitely in a front-runner position for a boy for us – first or middle – yet to be determined. In either spot, it would likely be the name we use most often.
Primarily we would choose the name because of the legend of the Phoenix. This story would have great personal meaning for us. Also, since our oldest son is Titus, I like that both names have classical roots.
My only concern is that the name may feel trendy, although as it still stands in the 400’s and didn’t rise this past year, it will not likely be an overused trendy name. I think with the passage of time, the Phoenix family will have less association in the minds of most people – certainly among the peers of my child. However, I think the Arizona city may be the first association for most people in time, and that would have no bearing at all into the name for us. I think few people will consider the legend or the Greek character, which is unfortunate, as they give strength and history to the name.
Our other son’s name is Titus Whitfield. I like the distinguished sound of his name and the meaning it had for us. I would be considering Winston Phoenix (if I can get hubby to buy in) or Jude Phoenix (his pick). However, I would welcome other suggestions! We like classic, unusual names. Biblical names are ok, but since we went with Titus, I’d probably prefer Greek or Latin Biblical names to Hebrew names. Also, names of strong literary or historical figures hold appeal. Thanks!
Charlotte Vera says
Congratulations on your pregnancy! Good luck with the name hunting. Mark and I only finalised our decisions a couple of weeks before Alaric’s birth.
Thanks! Naming babies is a little overwhelming! So many options, and they’re stuck with it forever, unless they are brave like Abby and change it as an adult.
Sarah A says
Congratulations Sara! I admit to initially thinking Phoenix sounded a bit nouveau, but my first associations with the name are from X-Men and then HP so definitely a literary vibe 🙂
I really like Winston Phoenix, especially if you plan to call him Phoenix. I think Phoenix in the middle really strengthens Winston. Jude Phoenix is also really nice and I love how Titus and Jude sound together for brothers 🙂
I personally wouldn’t worry about it sounding trendy. As Abby says, if the name has personal meaning for you it really doesn’t matter how popular it is/sounds. Also, with Titus as the older sibling, Phoenix definitely doesn’t sound trendy. Brothers called Phoenix and Zayden would be another story 🙂 Good luck!
Thanks for the input on both Winston and Jude. So sibset Jude and Titus works? Not too many Bible names for one family?
I honestly don’t think my husband will go for Winston, so I think that may just be wishful thinking on my part. Of Jude and Winston, Jude feels safer to me, without being in the top 10. I like what Winston would mean to us, and I like that he’s classic but not common. So, we will definitely have decisions ahead of us.
Heaven help us if this is a girl! We have no names for her. Well, hubs has one…just not sure how I feel about it. 🙂
Congratulations! How exciting that Titus is going to be a big brother.
Jude Phoenix is gorgeous, but Phoenix would work in the first spot, too. Winston Phoenix makes me think of Winston-Salem and then Phoenix … is that just me? It might be.
FWIW, I don’t think Phoenix is trendy. It’s a slow, steady rise – not a spike.
Would you use a nickname?
Thanks for the input on Winston and Jude. I had to laugh when I saw that Jude was River’s middle name. Yes, apparently we are just going to copy him as much as possible. 🙂 I also had to laugh at the Winston-Salem comment. Definitely food for thought as I’m not looking to have a city spin-off.
I appreciate your thoughts on the trendiness of the name. My husband will thank you too, as that has been my primary concern!
If we go with the name, in a roundabout way, you will have led us to it. After your post on Sequoyah, we read more about him and through his history learned about the Cherokee Phoenix, the Cherokee newspaper in publication since 1828. Oddly, reading about that, we admired the word Phoenix and started down this path. Although we are not Native American, and this does not factor into the name’s appeal to us, I think it could make the name possibly appealing to somebody with Cherokee roots.
Oh, regarding a nickname, we are not so great with nicknames. I guess we fall more into the camp of picking names we love and sticking with them. However, I’m sure our kids will pick up nicknames in time. I’ve been thinking about your 80/20 rule, but still haven’t landed on any nicknames I love for Titus enough to even use them 20% of the time. (We call him T-Man, but that’s not really a nickname he’d use in school.) Same for Phoenix. Once we actually name this baby, maybe we’ll choose a great nickname!
I actually feel that Jude and Winston sound more trendy than Phoenix. Jude is climbing a lot, even though its not a made up name or anything, but it is popular. Winston sounds like one of the many -ton/-ten names around that are so popular these days.
I actually think Phoenix as the first name works best, Phoenix Jude is simply stunning. And it is definitely not trendy in the slightest, it doesnt sound like any other name that is out there or popular right now, and seems to be stalling in popularity. I also think Phoenix and Titus sound like the best sibset name choices.
Charlotte Vera says
I once toyed with putting the variant Fenice on my list, but then decided I didn’t like it enough. Phoenix itself seems too much of a word-name for my taste, although I’d be charmed to meet a child of either gender by the name.
Chretien de Troyes’ story Clig
I am in love with Phoenix .. I really love names with mythological background, not to mention I love everything that starts with a P. If I had a duggar sized fam, I would pick P as my letter. I also am a hug HP fan, so I really like the literary connection. Great BNOTD!
I actually really love Phoenix a lot.I love the sound and the myth and I think it would suit a little boy well. (I am not convinced about the girls use).
It brings to mind the word Griffin.
It’s one of my fav boy names, good choice today!
The Phoenix is the symbol of the American Cancer Association too. It’s on all their letterheads and whatnot. My Mother was a member from 1972 – 1986. So Phoenix not only makes me think of Mama, but of the Aunt/Uncle who live there. So it should appeal to me but it doesn’t. Phoenix feels too grand for me. I also already have one that uses Fifi and Nix is not something I’s ever use on a kid. Nix that! 😀
Sorry to go off-topic but I thought this was interesting; inspired by Facebook, an Isreali couple name their daughter ‘Like’.
River’s brother Joaquin is also quite famous [or infamous now ;)], their sister Summer is mostly known for being the wife of Casey Affleck [Ben’s brother], and their other sisters Rain and Liberty have had their own brushes with fame. The entire Phoenix family is prominent enough to have inspired parents to use the name. 🙂
I’ve always liked Phoenix as a middle name for a boy.
A very nice point, Panya. The Phoenix family might hold some sort of record for greatest impact of a sibset on naming trends!