Famous Az. Artwork "The Phx. Bird"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.

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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.]

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.