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.