Not my favorite character in the world. Probably the silliest name inflicted on the Doctor Who universe, since they could have just named the girl “Peri” or “Perry” or “Parry” and been done with it.
Anyway, this was apparently a case of Stupid Latin Joke Day at the BBC. The reason nobody talked about it later is apparently because it was dog Latin.
A “pugillus” is a late Latin word that shows up in the Vulgate. Literally it’s a “small fist”. What it really means is a pinch, in English translation of a verse in Proverbs “a small handful”, and in pharmacy stuff, “the amount that can be picked up in three fingers”, probably thanks to a verse in Isaiah.
If there was a feminine form, it’d be “pugilla”, but that actually is Roman for “little butt”. So they might have thought it’d be better spun out as “pugillia”. With the proposition “per”, it’d be “pugilliam”.
So what they were trying to say was “through a small handful”, and it was probably supposed to be the motto of something like a university, and Peri was supposed to sound like her parents were crazy academics (which was basically her background in the show). But I think the show producers eventually decided it wasn’t all that clever, and shut up about it pretty thoroughly. Nothing was ever said about the name in official sources, that I ever heard.
Alternately, they might have been going for a feminine form of “pugil”, boxer, fistfighter, since Peri was supposed to be pugnacious. Or it could have been a notional “pugillia” as meaning “the art of boxing” or “the art of working with small handfuls of stuff”.
UPDATE: Nicola Bryant said this about her character’s name back in Doctor Who Magazine: “Apparently, in the Sixties, mothers in America were naming their children with particularly long ostentatious names. Obviously, John was using this to typify the kind of background that Peri had had, and the kind of mother she had.”
Arrrrrgh. So really her name should have been some rich Eighties chick from Dynasty name, like “Parrington”; or a Sixties name like “Parabola Rainbow Moondancer Galadriel”; but JNT instinctively reached for a different kind of ostentatious and ‘posh’. Well, that explains a lot.
UPDATE AGAIN: Apparently at some point, it was said to mean “She who lives in the hills.” Um. No.
On the bright side, there was a Time Trips story by Jake Arnott, called “A Handful of Stardust.” And in that story, there’s a Latin inscription in Peri’s honor, that reads “Per Pugilliam Pulvis Sidereus.” (There is a “PER” visible at the bottom of the diagram page, but I haven’t been able to see any edition of the book fully enough to find out if there’s more to it.) He translates this as indeed “by a handful of stardust.”
The problem is that “by a handful” is fine, but “of star dust” would be “pulveris siderei.” So what it’s saying is “stardust by the little handful” or “stardust [scattered] by little pinches.”
Anyhow, it does make some sense that a crazy academic might have had a poster of Digges’ diagram, although obviously he’s a figure much better known in the UK. (I have a brother who’s an astronomer, and had never heard bupkis about Digges before today.) And therefore it’s possible that a crazy academic might name his daughter after a motto by Digges.
Digges’ dad was an astrologer, mathematician, and diviner. When he passed away, Digges was given to the guardianship of John Dee, who of course was also an astrologer, occultist, and mathematician. So yup, Digges was an astrologer and mathematician both, although he jettisoned most of the occult in favor of Puritanism. He glommed onto both Copernicus and an astrological poem by an Italian occultist named Palingenius, whom the English Puritans called a “Christian poet” because he got posthumously condemned for all his crazy astrological heresies, with a tiny veneer of non-occult Christianity.
Puritan astrologers were a thing. Let that one sink in.
Anyhoo, that explains the obscure Latin Biblical phrasing.
And yes, there’s no St. Peri as of yet, but technically she has sort of a Biblical name. Very “sort of.” But I’m using the category to connect this to other naming posts.