Learn English – Philip Phillip Philips Phillips – Etymology


Is there any reason for these four different spellings of what seem to be a very similar name? (One 'l' vs double 'l'; and 's' vs no 's')

Best Answer

Phillip (along with its alternate spellings) comes from the Greek Philippos, meaning "lover of horses." Spelling was quite fluid for most words in general until around the 18th century, because there weren't many dictionaries and most people were illiterate anyway. The spelling of most words became standardized as the written word proliferated, but proper names didn't experience the same pressure to regularize--your name was yours and no one could tell you how you had to spell it, so spelling differences persisted.

Phillips as a surname probably originated as a patronymic, like my surname (Henry, anglicized from Heinrich in the 1700s). The s could have been tacked on in any number of ways, and probably happened multiple times in various ways for different Phillips families, as well as for the single-l variety (see e.g. Royal Philips Electronics, founded by Dutch industrialist Gerard Philips).