Family & Education

Not Phoebe? That’s what old ladies are called

“Have you considered Phyllida?” asked my mother.


My daughter’s name — Phoebe — drew disapproval from both of her grandmothers.

I’d found it in a book of Hebrew names, surprisingly as Phoebe is a Greek name, meaning light, often associated with the moon.

I’d looked up Feivel, which was the Hebrew name of my late father-in-law, Philip, a kind, gentle and caring man. There was no question that we would honour his memory in naming our first child. It was just that I didn’t like the names Philip or Philippa (we chose not to know the baby’s gender before birth).

Feivel, I read, was a Yiddish version of Phoebus, adopted by ancient Greek Jews in an attempt at assimilation which, with hindsight, completely failed. This appealed to me greatly, showing as it did the resilience of the Jewish people despite their own efforts. My husband approved too. But the grandmothers did not. Phoebe, they pronounced was an “old lady” name.

“Have you considered Phyllida?” asked my mother. From Manchester, my mother-in-law suggested Fiona.

Alternatives to Philip were harder to find, particularly as my husband really wanted to call a son after his dad. I tentatively suggested Felix.

This time Mum didn’t just disapprove, she issued a downright ban. Felix reminded her of a former boyfriend, she said. Oh, and by the way, Isaac was also forbidden, as it was the name of her no-good grandfather.

My husband and I never agreed on the Philip question, and I went into labour about to give birth to Alexander Philip or Philip Alexander, depending on whoever managed to get to the registrar first. But Phoebe it was.

And once the grandmothers fell in love with her, they agreed it was the perfect name.

Two months later my sister gave birth to Avital. “Perhaps we could call her Abigail?” said Mum.

Phoebe and Avital are 21 now and their doting grandmother has long forgotten her objections to their names. But looking ahead, I can understand her feelings. It’s the nature of name trends that one’s grandchildren’s names often reflect the fashions of the generation 20 years ahead of you.

How will I react if my kids present me with grandchildren called Patricia, Doreen or Joan? The phrase “old lady names” springs to mind.

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