Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Penelope

The name Penelope is borne by a character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey composed around the 8th century B.C. She is the wife of the protagonist, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who must leave Penelope shortly after she gives birth to their son Telemachus to go fight in the Trojan War. After ten years of battle, the Greeks sack Troy, but Odysseus does not immediately return to Ithaca. Unbeknownst to everyone, Odysseus is trapped on an island for another 10 years, held hostage by a beautiful nymph Calypso who has fallen in love with the mighty hero. Back in Ithaca, Penelope spends all of her time fending off a bevy of unsavory suitors determined to take Odysseus’ place. As the years roll on, Penelope finds it increasingly difficult to deflect these odious men. She tells the suitors she must first weave a burial shroud for Odysseus’ elderly father, Laertes; once she is finished she promises to pick a suitor. Each day she weaves the cloth and each night she unravels a part of her day’s work in order to delay the unthinkable. Now Penelope has no way of knowing where Odysseus is, or if he’s even alive. But she stays firm in her faithfulness and fidelity. Her fortitude and her cunning in the face of such pressure is a match for her husband’s. Eventually, and after some assistance from various gods, Odysseus returns home disguised as a beggar, proves his identity to Penelope through his skill with the bow and arrow, and destroys all the suitors and, presumably, lives happily ever after with the lovely Penelope. So goes the story of Penelope. The etymology of her name is somewhat debated. Her name comes from the Greek. Pēnelopē is thought to combine “pēnē” which means ‘weft, a piece of woven cloth’ with the word “lepō” meaning ‘peel’ – which makes sense in describing Penelope’s ruse of weaving the shroud cloth only to undo it at night or “peel” part of it off. Alternately, the name is thought to come from “pēnelōps” which is the name of a particular type of duck. Obviously, the former meaning makes more sense. This is an ancient name, one of the fewer derived from mythology (rather than the majority which are derived from the Bible). The name first shows up in England in the 16th century.

All About the Baby Name – Penelope

Personality

OF THE GIRL NAME PENELOPE

The number Seven personality is deeply mystical and highly in tune with their spirituality. They operate on a different wavelength than the average joe. Spending time alone comes easily to Sevens, as it gives them time to contemplate philosophical, religious and spiritual ideas in an effort to find "real truth".  Sevens are wise, but often exude mystery as if they are tapped into something the rest of us don't understand. They love the outdoors and are fed by nature. Sevens are constantly seeking to understand human nature, our place in the universe, and the mystery of life in general. This makes them quite artistic and poetic, but they are also keen observers with high intellect - so they are equally scientific-minded. Sevens are charitable and care deeply about the human condition.

Popularity

OF THE GIRL NAME PENELOPE

The name Penelope shows up intermittently on the U.S. popularity charts in the late 1880s and again in the late 1920s, but was only given to less than ten baby girls back then. For the most part, the name is barely in use until the late 1930s. Between 1935 and 1975, Penelope sticks to the charts but with very low to low-moderate usage. Penelope retreats to the shadows once again after 1975 and does not reappear on the charts until 2001. Clearly an exotic name, Penelope never achieves mainstream usage. However, 2001 marks the year that the Spanish actress Penélope Cruz made her way to Hollywood after establishing herself as an award-winning actress in Spain. In 2001, she appeared in a couple big movies (Blow, Vanilla Sky) and was the then-amour of the ever-popular Tom Cruise. Penelope hit America big time, and she brought her name along for the ride. Since 2001, the name Penelope has only shown upward movement on the charts and just recently edged onto the Top 200 list of most commonly used girl names. Like Aurora, Chloe, Cassandra, Eurydice, or Phoebe – Penelope is a great choice for parents who appreciate the ancient mythological legends that are imbedded in our literary and artistic culture. These names have interesting and colorful stories attached to them. Even though Penelope is often regarded as the beacon of the faithful wife, she was also a strong and crafty woman who held her own against adversity.

Quick Facts

ON PENELOPE

GENDER:

Girl

ORIGIN:

Greek

NUMBER OF SYLLABLES:

4

RANKING POPULARITY:

56

PRONUNCIATION:

pə-NEL-ə-pee

SIMPLE MEANING:

Unweave a woven cloth; faithful wife

Characteristics

OF PENELOPE

Mystical

Wise

Eccentric

Intuitive

Imaginative

Philosophical

Solitary

Cultural References to the Baby Name – Penelope

Literary Characters

OF THE BABY NAME PENELOPE

We cannot find any significant literary characters by the name of Penelope

Popular Songs

ON PENELOPE

Penelope Please
a song by Terence Trent D'Arby

Penelope
a song by Pinback

Le Voyage de Penelope
a song by Air

Famous People

NAMED PENELOPE

Penelope Cruz (actress)
Penelope Delta (writer)
Penelope Fitzgerald (writer)
Penelope Ann Miller (actress)
Penelope Spheeris (director)

Children of Famous People

NAMED PENELOPE

Tina Fey; Kourtney Kardashian;

Historic Figures

WITH THE NAME PENELOPE

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