Meaning: bright; light
To many Americans, Phoebe brings to mind the wacky yet lovable character of Phoebe Buffay on the popular SitCom, Friends. To the British, she is of an upper crust trendy sort, to Christians, she is an admirable woman in the New Testament, and to the Greeks, she is a classic, featured in both the Greek Orthodox calendar of saints as well as in Greek myth.
The name is derived from the Greek, Phoibus, which means “bright, light.”
In Greek Mythology, Phoebe was a pre-Olympic goddess, a Titan. She was the goddess of the moon and the consort of her own brother Coeus, from him, she mothered Asteria and Leto and was believed to be the grandmother of Artemis and Apollo.
The Greeks later associated her with the goddess Artemis. Phoebe was often used as an epithet for Artemis, while the masculine form, Phoebus, was used for Apollo.
Phoebe was also associated with the Oracle of Delphi.
There are a few other Phoebes mentioned in ancient Greek religion, one was a Heliade nymph, another was the daughter of Leucippus and Philodice.
Phoebe, daughter of Leucippus, and her sister Hilaeira, were priestesses to Artemis and Athena. They were both betrothed to Idras and Lynceus. Castor and Pollux, the divine twins, were so impressed by their beauty, that they fell in love with the two maidens and carried them off for themselves. Idras and Lynceus, outraged, sought the two immortals but were both slain. Nevertheless, Phoebe married Pollux. It was also the name of a sister to Leda.
In the New Testament, the name is borne by a woman of Cenchrae, many scholars argue that she was a deaconess, the Catholic Church especially seems to support this stance. She is also believed to have brought Paul’s Epistle of the Romans to Rome. She is a canonized saint in both the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, both rites hold her feast on September 3rd.
Fast forward to the 1500s and you will find the name Phebe, (an older English spelling), as the name of one of Shakespeare’s characters in his play, As You Like It. In the modern American Classic, she is the younger sister of Holden Caulfied in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Polish Science Fiction writer, Jacek Duraj, uses the name as an acronym for post-human beings in his novel Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość.
Phoebe is also the name of a genus of evergreen tree, a species of bird and a moon of the planet, Saturn.
As of 2010, Phoebe was the 29th most popular female name in England/Wales. Her rankings in other countries are as follows:
- # 56 (Australia, NSW, 2010)
- # 90 (Northern Ireland, 2010)
- # 93 (Scotland, 2010)
- # 309 (United States, 2010)
Other forms of the name include:
- Febe (Asturian/Danish/German/Italian/Norwegian/Polish/Portuguese/Spanish/Swedish)
- Foibe (Danish)
- Phoebe (Dutch/English/German)
- Phœbé/Phébé (French)
- Phoibe (German)
- Phoebi/Phoibi (Greek)
- Feba (Serbo-Croatian)
- Foibe (Swedish)