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.

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43 Responses to “The Lost Letter P: Whatever happened to Peter, Patti, and Paul?”

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Kathryn Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 2:42 am

I know a few little ones with P names, and my baby boy due any day now will also have a P name. In fact a few names we considered for both genders started with P. I think I like unfashionable initials!

susan Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:20 am

I think the letter “P” is amazing. Many of my favorite names start with a “P”. Philip isn’t dated in my opinion. Phil is, though. Philip is one of those names that’s not being used often. But it never was overused, so it sounds kind of rare. To me, Philip sounds intelligent and oddly stylish.

Emily Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:21 am

I’ve recently met two little girls (not related) named Petra and Phaedra (Fay-dra).

disa_lan Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:37 am

I had a great aunt named Portia, I wish I had met her. Primo is a name I have recently heard on a little boy about four years old. Paulina is a name I have loved for a long time, I would even use the nn Polly alone.

abbey Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 5:26 am

Don’t forget the lovely Phoebe! Whilst I’m not fond of Poppy, it’s quite popular around these parts. I would love to see Persephone become a little less exotic to contemporary ears too. I adore the name Persephone.

abbey Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 5:27 am

I also forgot Peregrine for a boy. I love this name.

spicedchai Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 5:44 am

I know it’s plain, but Peter is absolutely one of my favorite boys’ names.

SarahinJune Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 8:20 am

I love Penn. I considered it for my second born as a way to honor my home state but hubby was not a fan.

British American Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 8:46 am

I know a 5 year old Pearl, a 3 year old Piper and a 5 month old Penelope/Penny. 🙂
I know a 30 year old Posy.

Polly is cute, but probably a little too ‘nicknamey’.

I’d like to meet a Percy. He’s one of the trains on ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ and seeing as Henry is increasing in popularity (and is the name of my son) it would be cute to see Percy follow suit.

phaedra Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Nice! I love Piper and Poppy!

And to emily and abbey, I love Phaedra and Phoebe as well. Phaedra has a kind of tragic meaning, but it’s gorgeous.

My daughter has the middle name Pearl. I’m definitely a fan of the letter P.

Andrea Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 9:32 am

Piper seems to be fairly popular. I’ve run into several of them who are preschool to elementary age. Also Parker, Presley, Preston, Payton/Peyton. The P names that were popular in the 1950s just are out of style. My mom’s name is Peggy and I’ve always had a soft spot for that name. Also for Pegeen, probably because of Auntie Mame.

pam Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 10:29 am

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to the baby-naming public, but we considered naming our second son Pike. Another boys’ favorite that starts with P and which I’ve written about in a post on undiscovered names: Piran. Plus, Pierce! Which I prefer to Piers.

Bella Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 10:39 am

I love all things- posey, poppy, petal, penelope, Primrose, Prima and Peirs.

Meredith Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 10:40 am

I know a bunch of little baby Parkers born recently. This name must be picking up in popularity!

Andrea Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 11:21 am

One of my friends from high school named her son Pierce. He’s about 2 1/2 now. I’ve heard it occasionally but I think it’s still pretty rare.

Joan Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 11:59 am

In my college’s alumni newsletter they often announce births, and recently someone in my class named their baby “Piper” and the newsletter writer actually commented on what a cool name it was. (Generally they just announce the name and birth date, they don’t usually comment on the name choice.)

Alyssa Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I’m hearing Porter a lot for boys at he moment, as well.

Sorry, but Paloma sounds way too close to “papilloma” for me. I’d feel like I was naming my child after a disease.

vikki Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I would have to get married before I would use a p- name. My last name is Perry and there are just some things that you don’t do to a child and those initials are one of them.

That being said…..

I would totally use Plum as a middle name I just love it! It is very Louisa May Alcott.

MutantAnemone Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

From this list I love Peter, Paul (ESPECIALLY Paul), Polly, Portia, Plum (but I don’t think I would ever actually us this), Percy… also like Persephone, Phoebe…

Vera Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I am due in April, we don’t know what we’re having. Five of the names up here are on our narrowed down list. I have loved Philippa nn Pippa since I was 10, and hope to use it if we have a girl! Great list!

MollyK Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

My son’s name is Porter, I have not met any other Porter’s yet. I guess I hadn’t noticed that the letter P was a little out of fashion. Makes his name a little more distinct. Although he does get called Parker on occasion and even Peter once.

Pam- I think the name Pike is really great. I am sure my husband would love it too because it is the name of a fish. I don’t want kids with the same initial, so we would have to use it as a middle.

Also love Penn, Portia, and Pilar!

JNE Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

These names are really lovely! And I think P is getting play across the pond already… I know several little ones with P names in England (most recently, my friend’s little Phoebe).

Faves of mine:
Paloma, Paolina, Penelope, Petal, Paolo, Phineas, Percy and Piers. (Patience as a middle – too much to ask for up front. And I love Prudence, but that’s a tough name to wear.)

Could see these catching on:
Posy, Patsy, Pearl, Piper, Plum and Polly for the girls
Pax and Phineas for the boys

JNE Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Oh, I was also wondering what the next initials will be?!… I love I and O and have seen quite a lot of names with those initials recently, as well as, R, S, and L. All of them are “softer” sounds. Any guesses?

Emily Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I don’t know that I would ever name a baby this, but I think Pepper is adorable. Can anyone think of a “real” name that Pepper could be a nickname for?

Also, Prudence is one of my absolute favorites and plan on using it in the future.

Courtney W. Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I like Paget or Padget for a girl as opposed to the more popular Paige/Page.

For a boy, I dig Prentiss.

I also likes Hindi “P” names for girls. Such as…Priya, Prema, Padme, and Padma.

I grew up with a kid next door named, Prince. But, the musician, I think is the only one who should have this name.

My step-cousins have a sister named “Precious Princess” Her last name also starts with “P.” That’s a little much.

I gave my son my maiden name “Parker” as his middle name.

JNE Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Emily – Pepper can be short for Penelope (knew a girl by this name and nn). I also knew a Pepper in grad school whose name was just Pepper in full. I also think it would work as short for Persephone – frilly full name, spunky nn – I like that!

Andrea Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Pippa means something obscene in Swedish. I think it’s basically the same as the “f” word. I haven’t been able to see it without making that association since a Swede first told me. A pity, because I like Browning’s “Pippa Passes.”

YouNamedYourKidWhat? Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

We used the name Prudence for our oldest. Appropriately for the theme of the post, it seems to be a polarizing choice. Interestingly, the most negative reactions come from the grandparent and great-grandparent age groups who are none-too-pleased (and don’t make an effort to hide it) when they find out a cute and young little girl has a name like that.

JAKS Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I’ve always liked Phoebe, and I think Pippa and Peri are cute.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, we considered Persephone. We wanted to call her Percy for short, but we weren’t sure on the spelling (Persy, Persi, Percy…) and thought it was a bit too different for our families and most people. Instead we picked a name that wasn’t too common/uncommon and would be easier to match up with a future sibling’s name.

Veris Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 9:31 pm

It’d be really nice if the *Goddess* name Pax could be promoted for a girl for once, especially since we seem to love boyish sounding names on girls.

But we can’t stop the celeb obsession, can we? Screw mythology, it’s all about Brangelina.

Charlotte Vera Says:

March 9th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I love me some Philippa and Peregrine, but sadly, my brother is Philip (it would look odd to have someone named after him and not other siblings), and I really don’t think I convince my husband to go for Peregrine.

Charlotte Vera Says:

March 9th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Some more “p” names:

Palavi – a Hindi girls’ name
Perseus – ala Greek mythology and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Phoenix – I submit this name for both girls and boys

Andre Says:

March 12th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

I know 3 boys called Payton. I guess it is catching on. Oh and Phoenix for boys too for sure.

Victoria Says:

March 15th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

My little girl’s name is Primrose. I have a friend named Payton (girl) and I love the name Phillipa nn. Pip. I also have a friend who recently named her little girl Parker.

QWMichael Says:

April 18th, 2010 at 9:17 pm

No. But now i will. Thanks for that.

Lorilu Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 4:24 am

I know two little brothers named Porter and Parker. I also have a friend with an adorable boy/girl sibset – Paxton and Presley.

I also know sisters Prudence and Patience who are in their 20s.

chakrateeze Says:

December 23rd, 2010 at 8:26 am

I’m surprised Pietro didn’t make the list. I find it way more exciting than Piers.

Nora Says:

June 9th, 2011 at 11:03 am

Oh, you missed my favourite! My favourite P name is definitely Petra, and paired with the mn Sophia it’s absolutely darling!

laununez Says:

February 21st, 2013 at 8:40 am

Oh! I love P names, ever since I became a fan of the 1998 TV show “Charmed” with characters Prucence, Piper, Pheobe and Paige. They also had other relatives called Penelope “Penny” and Patricia “Patty”. In español I really like Pilar and Paloma too.

Mrse Says:

July 9th, 2013 at 5:25 pm

My eldest girl used to go to school with a girl called Pagan, she’d be about 12/13 now and a boy called Pedro.. His gran used to screech after him in the playground everyday, poor kid

ResaandMo Says:

July 16th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I don’t think Patsy should EVER come back…to call someone a “Patsy” is the equivalent of calling her stupid.
Petal is a HUGE guilty pleasure for me,but I couldn’t bring myself to even consider naming an actual child that.

tabitha Says:

July 25th, 2013 at 4:22 am

A friends daughter is called Pepper – she’s 3 now I think. Really suits her.
Love Primrose and Prue but a bit too ‘British’ for us 😉

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