A classic name that's made a comeback with modern parents, Penelope means "weaver." It comes from the ancient Greek epic poem the Odyssey, written by Homer in the seventh or eighth century B.C.
In the Odyssey, Penelope is the long-suffering wife of Odysseus, king of Ithaca. As the story goes, Penelope waited 20 years for her husband to return after he left to fight in the Trojan War. She was loyal and patient, refusing to give up on her husband's possible return. And she was also clever as she rebuffed dozens of suitors angling for her hand in marriage.
The name's meaning, weaver, is a reference to the stalling tactics Penelope used. According to Homer's epic, Penelope told her suitors she would choose between them when she finished weaving a funeral shroud for her father-in-law. She worked on it all day, but at night she unraveled all the work she had done. (Spoiler alert: Odysseus returns, kills all the suitors, and reunites with Penelope.)
While Penelope has been among the top 1,000 baby names for girls in the U.S. for much of the past 100 years, it fell off the Social Security Administration (SSA) list between 1975 and 2000. And it may have continued to languish in obscurity if not for some celebrity parents who started using the name for their daughters in the early 2000s. Taylor Hanson (of the band Hanson) named his daughter Penelope in 2005, while Tina Fey chose the name for her daughter in 2011, and Kourtney Kardashian picked the name for her daughter in 2012.
It's not clear whether celebrities brought Penelope into the 21st century or were simply participating in the already popular trend of choosing vintage baby names, but around 2000 the name grabbed the spotlight and has continued to grow in popularity ever since. Penelopes are in good company: The name is shared by many famous authors and actors, and has appeared in several modern retellings of the Odyssey story.
Penelope is similar to other popular, old-fashioned, multi-syllable, vowel-heavy names like Olivia, Amelia, and Evelyn. It also offers a slew of charming nicknames, including Penny, Poppy, Nellie, and Nell.
Penelope is a decidedly feminine name and not particularly suited for gender-neutral use. Masculine or gender-neutral alternatives with a similar feel include Penn or Opie.
Penelope is a timeless name that's literary, romantic, and unarguably adorable. Here's hoping it's still around in another 3,000 years.
Penélope Cruz : Spanish actress known for Volver, Nine, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Penelope Austin : Australian singer-songwriter
Penelope Boston : American speleologist (a scientist who studies caves), associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute
Penelope Aubin : 18th-century English novelist
Penelope Gilliatt : English novelist and film critic
Penelope Ann Miller : American actress known for her Broadway career and films including Carlito's Way
Penelope Scott : American singer-songwriter
Penelope Douglas : Author of romance novels
Penelope Lively : British author, recipient of the Booker Prize and Carnegie Medal
Penelope Fitzgerald : British author, recipient of the Booker prize
Penelope Spheeris : American director, producer, and screenwriter
Penelope Cruz : actress
Penelope Corrin : actress
Penelope Delta : writer
Penelope Farmer : writer
Penelope Keith : actress
Penelope Lively : published author
Penelope Shuttle : writer
Penelope Windust : actress