Phoebe, and its many spellings

This post is inspired by the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge by Amy Johnson Crow. The week 6 challenge is “favorite name”.

One of my favorite things about genealogy is discovering names and naming patterns that have been used throughout my family’s history. The farther back I reach, the more unique and sometimes unusual the names are. Phoebe, however, has always been my favorite family name. 

Phoebe Douglas  

My great-grandmother, Phoebe Douglas, was born on September 12, 1880, in Murphysboro, Illinois. Her given name is Fariba Matilda Douglas1)Birth certificate, family files. I don’t really know how she came to be called Phoebe, but my grandpa (her son) never used any other name but that one. Phoebe is also the name on her marriage record, death record, and gravestone. 

Phoebe Douglas Birth

Grandma Phoebe’s birth certificate.

Grandma Phoebe, as we call her, is also my daughter’s namesake. I grew up listening to stories about Grandma Phoebe. My grandpa lost her when he was only 14 years old – we suspect to some sort of female cancer – but he was full of stories. He missed her the whole rest of his life. Grandma Phoebe has been such a large part of my life without having actually been physically in my life that is only made sense to name my daughter after her. I want my Phoebe to be as strong and resilient as I know Grandma Phoebe was. 

Grandma Phoebe’s Mother

One of my research brick walls is the name of Grandma Phoebe’s mother. I only finder her listed by name in the 1850 and 1860 census records as Forobe (Ferobe) and Feby respectively.

1850 Census JD Douglas

1850 Census, Weakly County, TN


1860 Census John JD Douglas

1860 Census, Stoddard County, MO

Grandpa called her “Ferby” because that’s what his father called her. I think her name was also Phoebe – or at least she was called Phoebe – and that Grandma Phoebe was named after her. This is me putting together ragged puzzle pieces – I have no proof. I wrote about her in Genealogy Sources Part 2: Feby Douglas.

The Meaning of the Name

Phoebe is considered Greek, although it is widely used in the English culture as well. There is also a Phoebe in the Christian Bible, which is likely where the importance of the name originated in the English culture. Today, the name is much more widely used in the UK than in the US 2) Phoebe – however, it is spelled – means “bright” or “pure”. 

Variations of the Name

Here’s the fun part … I’ve tried to research the names Ferobe and Fariba and have come up with little more than a few other instances where I find the name in census records. The name Fariba has Persian roots which makes little sense given its use in my family – where did they come up with the name? The phonetic spellings of names that were used by census takers in the 18th and 19th centuries certainly lend some understanding into the various spellings used. I also have to remind myself that accents would have likely been much stronger given this is my Scottish line that migrated from the Carolinas through Kentucky and Tennessee   

So far, I’ve found many variations of Phoebe and, if Fariba and Ferobe are included in those variations … well … let’s just say it gives me a headache! To clarify, these aren’t all associated with my Phoebe’s. Rather, a curory look at census records to try and determine what name was being given to the census taker hoping to uncover the name of my Ferobe Douglas (Gradnma Phoebe’s grandmother). 

Variations of Phoebe

Phoebe, Phobe, Fhobe, Feby, Pheby, Pheobe, Pheoba, Pheba, Phebe, Feba, Fiba, and Feebee (my personal favorite). 

Variations of Feriba

Feriba, Ferobe, Forobe, Pharaba, Pherba, Ferbie, Ferby, Ferbia, Ferba, Ferebe, Feribe, Ferabee, Ferebee, Pharaby, Ferrebee, and Fereba. 

The spelling variations of Phoebe all lead you to the most likely name … Phoebe. Ferobe and Fariba, however, are less discernable. 

Let me know if you have any insight into the names Ferobe or Fariba. I’d be much appreciative! 



References   [ + ]

1. Birth certificate, family files

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