Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Pamela

Believe it or not, Pamela is a literary inspired name. Most scholars believe that it was a very prominent late 16th century Elizabethan poet by the name of Sir Philip Sidney who first coined the name Pamela in his epic work “Arcadia” (c. 1580s). Sidney used Greek names for his Arcadian (Greek) characters and it’s surmised that Pamela was taken from the Greek παν (pan) meaning "all" and μελι (meli) meaning "honey". Therefore, Pamela’s etymology was most likely intended to mean “sweetness”. Sidney also pronounced the name “pa-MEE-la” rather than the PAM-ә-la pronunciation we’re familiar with today. Further cementing Pamela’s place in literature was a very popular 18th century novel “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded” written by English author Samuel Richardson in 1740. His heroine was the very lovely and very virtuous Pamela Andrews, a 15 year old maid who becomes the lascivious object of desire of her master Mr. B, purportedly based on a true story of a coachman’s daughter who married a baronet. Richardson’s book was an overnight sensation in England and prompted Henry Fielding to write a comic parody of “Pamela” called “Joseph Andrews” (1742). Pamela began circulating as a female first name in England around this time (mid-18th century) but didn’t come into widespread usage until the 20th century.

All About the Baby Name – Pamela



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Love her or hate her, Pamela’s etymological origins are pretty cool. She joins the ranks with only a few female names that were purportedly invented by other men of the pen. For instance, Shakespeare coined the name Olivia in his play “Twelfth Night” and Miranda for “The Tempest”. Anglo-Irish author Jonathon Swift disguised the name of his lover in poetry by using Vanessa. American author James Fenimore Cooper made up the name Cora for his heroine in “Last of the Mohicans”. There’s something inherently romantic about a name invented solely for literary reasons. A beautiful woman trapped between the pages and in the imagination of her creator. The first time Pamela reared her lovely head on the American list of Top 1000 girl names was in 1925. Very quickly the name ascended into a Top 100 spot (1943) and then hit the big-time in the 1950s and 60s sealing her fate as a “mid-century favorite”. Pamela’s best year on the charts was 1953 when she became the 10th most popular girl’s name across the country. For the most part, Pamela maintained a Top 100 position on the charts for 40 consecutive years (1943-1983). The 1990s and especially the 2000s have not been kind to old Pamela. Today the name is so rarely used she’s coming dangerously close to falling off the collective American radar permanently. Although we have confidence Pamela will be rediscovered again one day, it may take a generation or two. Like Linda, Patricia, Donna and Barbara, Pamela has become out-dated and middle aged. Even buxom Playboy Playmate Pamela Anderson is pushing 50 these days.

Quick Facts























Cultural References to the Baby Name – Pamela

Literary Characters


Pamela Andrews is the title character in Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Pamela is indeed virtuous, although her “reward” would be called into question by modern day standards. A beautiful and uncommonly intelligent young maidservant in the household of the aristocratic Mr. B, she is the unwilling recipient of repeated amorous advances on his part. Now, of course, this is one of the first novels as we know the form to day (in this case, epistolary), so we have to give a tremendous amount of leeway to the social, cultural and economic divisions between the classes, and the advantage that the upper automatically had over the lower – but still!! Mr. B. doesn’t just gently turn his attentions to lovely Pamela – oh, no – he pursues her, tries to seduce her, kidnaps her, imprisons her, steals and reads her mail, tries to marry her off to another man, tries to buy her silence about the entire matter and then, gentle readers, what? Well, he is so impressed by the virtuous character of Pamela that he condescends to marry her, in spite of the yawning gap in their social orders. And this is Virtue Rewarded. Well, we have to admit it probably beats one of the other uses for lower class women of the times.

Pamela appears once again in Henry Fielding’s 1742 novel, Joseph Andrews, being part of Fielding’s response to what he considered worthy of satire in Samuel Richardson. (He had done this to great effect a year earlier in his pamphlet, Shamela.) Pamela, of course, is sister to Joseph, who finds himself in a similarly distressing position – he is being pursued by one Lady Booby, for whom he works as her footman. He, of course, is in love with another, the poor but beautiful Fanny. Nothing like a little broad humor, right? In addition to being a good fellow, Joseph is also intent on remaining chaste until his marriage vows are spoken. At any rate, Pamela doesn’t play too much of a part in these proceedings, except to provide the linkage for Mr. Fielding to have his fun with Mr. Richardson, and we’re fine with that. And in the end, it turns out that little Fanny and Joseph were conveniently switched at birth - so while Joseph loses a sister in Pamela, at least he cannot be accused of incest in marrying Fanny (which had actually been a concern in this very complicated plot). What a relief!

Pamela is a character in Sir Philip Sidney’s epic pastoral poem, (The Old) Arcadia, a version on which he was working at the time of his death in 1586. It had been dedicated to his sister, Mary Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, who published a version in 1593. It was thereafter referred to as The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. Pamela is the elder of the two daughters of the Duke of Arcadia, Basilius, who is trying to protect his family from the disasters predicted by the Oracle at Delphos. After five books of heart-stopping adventures, including but not limited to: attempted rape, bear and lion attacks, poisonous drinks, mistaken identities, unrequited love, murder, coma and mob riots, pretty Pamela and her sister are united with their true loves, (royal princes, of course), and married, happily ever after, of course.

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Pamela

Popular Songs


Pamela Pamela
a song by Wayne Fontana

Pamela Jo
a song by Donovan

Pamela Brown
a song by Tom T. Hall

a song by Toto

Famous People


Pamela Anderson (actress/model)
Pamela Courson (girlfriend of Jim Morrison, front man of The Doors)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Pamela

Historic Figures


We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Pamela