Baby name stories: Parthenope and Florence

Florence and Frances Parthenope Nightingale (painted circa 1836 by William White)
Florence and Frances Parthenope Nightingale

Wealthy British couple William Nightingale and Frances “Fanny” Smith married in June of 1818. The Napoleonic Wars had ended several years earlier, so, now that it was safe to travel through Europe again, they decided to spend the first part of their marriage on the Grand Tour.

While abroad, they welcomed two daughters:

  1. Frances Parthenope (pronounced pahr-THEN-oh-pee), born in April, 1819
  2. Florence, born in May, 1820

Both baby girls were named after their birthplaces.

Frances Parthenope was born in Naples, which had been founded — as Neápolis, in the 6th century BC — in roughly the same spot as an earlier Greek colony known as Parthenope. Because of this, “Parthenope” is sometimes used as a poetic synonym for Naples. The Greek settlement was named after the Siren Parthenope, whose name was derived, in part, from the ancient Greek word parthenos, meaning “maiden, girl” or “virgin.”

Florence was born in Florence (of course), which is located about 300 miles northwest of Naples. The city’s name is based on the Latin word florens, meaning “flowering” or “flourishing.”

(Nowadays, both of these cities are part of Italy. During that era, however, Naples was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Florence was part of Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and the unification of Italy was still 40 years away.)

The sisters, who went by the nicknames “Parthe” (PAHR-thee) and “Flo,” returned with their parents to England in 1821.

Younger sister Florence, who went on to become a nurse (despite her family’s opposition), rose to prominence in the mid-1850s while caring for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Today, Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing.

Which name do you prefer, Parthenope or Florence?

Sources: Florence Nightingale – Wikipedia, Parthenope (Siren) – Wikipedia, Parthénos – Wiktionary, William Nightingale – Wikipedia

Image: Florence Nightingale; Frances Parthenope, Lady Verney by William White

3 thoughts on “Baby name stories: Parthenope and Florence

  1. That’s a hard choice; I don’t particularly like either name. But I suppose I’d go with Florence, just because anglophones know how to pronounce it. I work at a Greek-American-owned business and many of our clientele are also of Greek ancestry; I hear their names butchered horribly all the time.

    I have a very weird connection to Florence because of Florence Henderson. The name instantly makes me think of fried chicken, because of those Wesson ads she used to do. Ironically, I named my first teddy bear after Mrs. Brady, in 1975 when I was a Brady Bunch-obsessed toddler. I loved her so much. But “Carol Brady” is much prettier to me than Florence.

  2. I was wondering how Parthe Nightingale’s nickname was pronounced, and did some googling hoping to find the answer, which led me here. I thought it would be pronounced either as “Parth” (to rhyme with Garth) or “Par-THA” (to rhyme with Martha) and was surprised to find it was neither.

    I don’t like either Florence or Parthenope as names, but had long thought Parthe (pronounced in my head as Parth) was rather pretty. Not sure I like Parthe pronounced as Parthie though.

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