American Names · Ancient and Classical Names

Persistent Penelope

Penelope and Odysseus

Penelope is a name that intrigues me.  It first entered the naming lexicon a few thousand years ago as the long-faithful wife of Odysseus in Homer’s epic The Odyssey.  And unlike many other ancient and classical names, she has become a sort of modern staple.  Whether for the Ithacan Queen’s unusually virtuous nature (as far as Greek Mythology goes) or for the name’s sweet-sounding syllables, this appellation endures.

Stateside, Penelope‘s popularity has been volatileShe first appears in the 1880s, then virtually disappears until the 1920s, becomes trendy in the 1940s and 1950s, and only hits stardom in the 21st century.  Indeed, for a time, the nickname Penny was much more popularOne of the reasons I call Penelope a “persistent” name, though, is because she always reappears at some point or another.  Naturally, her ancient namesake is the other reason.

There are a few possibilities as to why Penelope has grown exponentially more popular in the last few years.  For one thing, I suspect Penelope Cruz has something to do with it.  Secondly, classical names are trendy now.  Finally, and the most concrete possibility for popularity, is that one of the Kardashians named her daughter Penelope.  Look – I strongly dislike the Kardashians.  And as much as I shudder at the idea of a Kardashian namesake, I can appreciate that one gave her child a really good name.  Anyway, this likely explains why the name has jumped over 100 places in the rankings in less than 5 years.  This decade is the first that Penelope has ever been in the American top 100!  She ranked #34 in 2015.

What do you think of Penelope?  Will she continue to rise? 

Originally published March 2016, edited Oct. 11 2016.

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