Where did the baby name Prisca come from in 1959?

Diplomatic daughter Prisca Bunau-Varilla (in 1960).
Prisca Bunau-Varilla

The pretty name Prisca — which is related to the more familiar name Priscilla — appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first time in 1959:

  • 1965: unlisted
  • 1964: 5 baby girls named Prisca
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 5 baby girls named Prisca
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 10 baby girls named Prisca [debut]
  • 1958: unlisted

The most high-profile Prisca around that time was teenager Prisca Bunau-Varilla, the stepdaughter of Hervé Alphand, French Ambassador to the U.S. from 1956 to 1965.

Diplomatic daughter Prisca Bunau-Varilla (in 1960).
Prisca Bunau-Varilla

Hervé had married Prisca’s mother Nicole in mid-1958. Both Hervé and Nicole had divorced from their original spouses a year earlier. (Nicole’s first husband was French aviation pioneer Étienne Bunau-Varilla.)

Prisca started being mentioned in the news a few months later. In October, for instance, she brought her hula hoop to an embassy party so that everyone (including the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S.) could try “the exercise that’s sweeping the country.” In November, she invited some teenage friends to attend a supper honoring a group of traveling French movie stars in order to meet leading man Gérard Philipe. A few weeks later, she helped her mother entertain opera singer Maria Callas.

For years, Prisca’s name continued to pop up in the newspapers. She was even featured in LIFE magazine twice (in 1959 and in 1960). This was largely thanks to her mother, a popular Washington hostess who became close to Jackie Kennedy in the early ’60s.

Do you like the name Prisca? Do you like it more or less than Priscilla? (Both are based on the Latin word priscus, meaning “ancient” or “old-fashioned.”)


Images: © 1960 LIFE

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