The Lost Letter P: Whatever happened to Peter, Patti, and Paul?

The Lost Letter P: Whatever happened to Peter, Patti, and Paul?

Just as names move in and out of fashion so do sounds and initial letters.  In the 70s and 80s, J-names ruled, from Jennifer and Jason to Jessica and Joshua, and then came the Ms –Michael, Matthew, Melissa, Megan, the Bs—Brianna, Brittany, Brandon, the Ks—Kayla, Kimberly, Kelsey, and the still continuing As and Es—Ashley, Amanda, Ava, Emily Emma.

But what did they replace?  If you want proof of how an initial can fall totally out of favor, all you have to do is look at the performance record of the letter P.

In the last year counted, you have to scroll the Social Security list all the way down to #60 to find a single name beginning with that letter—the girl’s name Peyton—and for boys it isn’t until #124 that you get to Preston.  When P-names were in their prime, in 1950, you would have found nine names in the Top 60—Peter, Patrick, Philip, Paul, Peggy, Phyllis, Paula, Pamela and Patricia, none of which is found in the Top 100 today.

I’m not saying Phyllis is necessarily ready for her comeback (though those boys’ names could be), but there are certainly other P-names worthy of trying to resuscitate the reputation of that lost letter.  Such as:


PALOMAPaloma is one of the loveliest options, and among the best bets for success.  Meaning ‘dove’ and thus symbolizing peace, it’s both gentle and dynamic.  A similarly appealing Latin name is PALMA, namesake of the charming city on the island of Majorca.

PATIENCE and PRUDENCE – Two virtue names projecting calm and—well—patience and prudence.  And the latter has the great nickname Pru plus a Beatles song for lullaby time.

PATRICE – The French unisex version of Patrick/Patricia gives either of those old standards a touch of Gallic flair and sophistication.

PATSY – Saucy, spunky nickname name that hasn’t been heard for so long that it’s beginning to sounds fresh.

PAULINA/PAOLINAPAULINE is sweet; these Spanish and Italian versions are stylish and exotic.

PEARL – Definitely regaining some of its old luster.

PENELOPE/PENNYPenélope Cruz has single-handedly revved up the appeal of this former frump; Penny is its cute retro nickname.

PERSIS –A distinctive New Testament choice for the intrepid baby namer.

PETAL and POSY—Rather than choosing the popular Rose, Lily or Daisy, you could go for one of these more unusual generic flower-related options.

PHILIPPA – Whereas Philip feels dated, its female counterpart, which has never gained much traction in the US, sounds interesting and new. Plus it has that bursting-with-energy nickname PIPPA.

PILAR – Another wonderful Spanish choice, strong and elegant with a memorable Hemingway heroine namesake.

PIPER – Hot in Hollywood and jumping up the popularity list: it’s now at #172 and could well be higher when the new rankings come out in MayPOPPY is another multi-P winner.

PLUM – A tasty candidate for middle-name place.

POLLY – Another forgotten P-name, could make a peppier successor to Molly.

PORTIA – An underused Shakespearean treasure.


PABLO/PAOLO – Another Spanish-Italian duo that could work well with a surname of any ethnicity.

PASCAL – An attractive and easy to pronounce French choice, often used for boys born around Easter.

PAX—With its peaceful meaning and cool X-ending, this JoliePitt name could catch up with brother Maddox’s.

PENN—Simple but solid.

PERCY – Yes, Percy.

PHELAN –An appealing Irish surname, pronounced FAY-lin.

PHILIPPE – Super-sophisticated version of Philip.

PHILO –There isn’t an O-ending name we don’t love and this Greek classic could step in for the mega-popular Milo.

PHINEAS – Revived by Julia Roberts (using a more antiquated spelling), Phineas has an appealing quirkiness.

PIERS – Understated version of Peter, commonly heard in the UK but would stand out  here.

PLACIDO – An Italian quasi-virtue name with operatice overtones.

PLATO – Interesting but possibly high-pressured name for a non-philosophical boy.

PRIMO – A boy with this name would know he was number one.  PRIMA is the feminine version.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.