About Names: Phyllis flourished thanks to poetry, prose and TV

Phyllis Diller

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 17th column, he looks at the history of the name Phyllis.

Phyllis is Greek for “foliage.” In Greek myth, Thracian princess Phyllis marries Demophon, King of Athens. She kills herself when he abandons her. An almond tree on her grave blossoms when Demophon returns. Classical poems retold Phyllis’ tale. When Renaissance Englishmen rediscovered these in the 1500s, Phyllis was confused with Felis (a form of Felicia) and became an English girl’s name. Romantic poets in the 17th century loved the name. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), wrote “Phillis, be gentler, I advise; make up for time misspent. When beauty on its deathbed lies, ’tis high time to repent.”

Phyllis peaked in 1929 at 24th. It stayed in the top 50 in the United States until 1950. It then fell, leaving the top thousand in 1985. It had one minor uptick in 1975, when “Phyllis,” Cloris Leachman’s “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff in which snobbish Phyllis Lindstrom has to move in with in-laws and get a job, debuted. Only 21 American babies were named Phyllis in 2017.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Phyllises in history!