Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Phyllis

Phyllis is an ancient Greek name (Φυλλίς) meaning “foliage”, from “phyllon” meaning "leaf". It is a female given name borne from Greek mythology. In most accounts, Phyllis is remembered as a Thracian Princess (Thrace was an ancient region located in modern-day southeastern Bulgaria, a tiny section of northeastern Greece and the European piece of Turkey). Demophon, a Greek Prince and son of Theseus (King of Athens), was returning home from the Trojan War (after the Greeks defeated the Trojans) and met Phyllis as he was passing through Thrace. The stories diverge greatly from here, but we’ll tell you the two most popular accounts. In one legend, the Prince of Athens and the Princess of Thrace fell in love. Demophon had to get back to his father in Athens but promised to return to Thrace to marry Phyllis as soon as he was able. However, various circumstances prevented his return and she either died of a broken heart or hung herself in despair. When Demophon finally did return, he found his dead amour transformed into an almond tree. When he embraced her lifeless tree trunk, she instantly blossomed. In another tale, Demophon and Phyllis do marry in Thrace before he leaves for Athens, although he promises to come back for her. Phyllis sends him off with a token – a small casket she tells him to open only if there is no chance of his return. Eventually time passed and he forgot Phyllis, even though she waited patiently for him on the shores of Thrace. One day he became curious about the casket and decided to open it. Apparently, whatever lay inside that box horrified him so much he jumped on his horse and quickly rode off to escape its contents. In his mad dash to get away, Demophon fell from his horse and was impaled by his own sword. In all mythologies, however, Phyllis always ends up as an almond tree (hence her “foliage” or “leaf”-like etymology). Other historians surmise she was transformed into a hazelnut tree. Either way, she’s a nutty tree. Phyllis has long been used among English speakers (since the 16th century) probably as the result of Renaissance revival interest in the famous 4th century B.C. Greek story involving Aristotle, Alexander the Great and a very beautiful, crafty woman named Phyllis. Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor, and Phyllis was Alexander’s wife (or favorite mistress, depending on the version). Aristotle encouraged Alexander to abstain from sexual relations with Phyllis lest it distract him from his more important kingly duties. Phyllis became irritated by Aristotle’s interference in her sexual affairs, so she decided to take her revenge on the old man. Through her feminine wiles and charms, she talked the legendary philosopher into allowing her to ride him (buck-naked, by the way) like a horse while he wore a bit and bridle. This absurd scene was witnessed by Alexander who questioned his teacher: if a woman can trick and dominate a wise old man like Aristotle, what defense is there for naïve young men against the seduction of women? The cautionary tale known as “Phyllis Rides Aristotle” was a favorite among Renaissance artists. And that, my dear reader, is the story of Phyllis.

All About the Baby Name – Phyllis



The number 11 is a Master Number, and embodies heightened traits of the Two. This personality is on a life journey to find spiritual truth. They are extremely idealistic and intuitive. Elevens have a rare and exceptional spiritual energy that brings a sense of obligation to illuminate the world around them. It's a very powerful responsibility, but these people have far more potential than they know. It's important that they surrender to higher ideals. They have the capacity to see the bigger picture, and they possess the skills to inspire others spiritually. Elevens have strong diplomatic skills and can become great peacemakers. Master numbers can be both a blessing and a curse, as they walk the fine line between greatness and the potential for self-destruction.



At one point in American history, Phyllis was quite fashionable – mainly during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In fact, in 1929 Phyllis achieved her highest position ever on the charts when she was ranked as the 24th most popular female name nationwide. She was a Top 100 name choice for American baby girls for over 40 consecutive years between 1915 and 1958 which is a pretty respectable ride if you ask us! The name dropped from fashionable use rather rapidly in the 1970s. 1984 marks the last year Phyllis claimed Top 1000 standing. In fact, in 2012, only 12 (yes, that’s right, a meager 12) baby girls were called Phyllis. Now that’s what we call UN-popular. Yet we cannot help but be charmed by this ancient gal. We love her stories (all of them!) and her etymology (foliage). This could be a great name for the daughter of outdoorsy people and/or gardeners.

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Highly Intuitive

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Cultural References to the Baby Name – Phyllis

Literary Characters


Phyllis is a character in Greek mythology; she is the daughter of the king of Thrace who falls in love with Demophon, the King of Athens and son of Theseus, while he is on a layover in Thrace on his way home from the Trojan War. Demophon must continue on to Athens, but promises Phyllis that he will return for her at an appointed time. Day after day, the hapless Phyllis waits at the shore for her beloved; when he does not return, she hangs herself from a nearby tree. Timing is everything – Demophon arrives shortly thereafter and, feeling the presence of Phyllis, hugs the tree, which blossoms with almond flowers. To this day, Athenians dance each year in honor of the beautiful Phyllis and her sad fate.

Popular Songs


We cannot find any popular or well-known songs with the name of Phyllis

Famous People


Phyllis Diller, (comedienne/actress)
Phyllis Holmes (basketball player)
Phillis Wheatley (African-American poet and activist)
Phyllis Schlafly (anti-feminist)
Phyllis Hyman (R&B singer)

Children of Famous People


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

Historic Figures


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