The name Phoenicians, like Latin Poenī (adj. poenicus, later pūnicus), comes from Greek Φοίνικες (Phoínikes). The word φοῖνιξ phoînix meant variably "Phoenician person", "Tyrian purple, crimson" or "date palm" and is attested with all three meanings already in Homer. (The mythical bird phoenix also carries the same name, but this meaning is not attested until centuries later.) The word may be derived from φοινός phoinós "blood-red", itself possibly related to φόνος phónos "murder".
It is difficult to ascertain which meaning came first, but it is understandable how Greeks may have associated the crimson or purple color of dates and dye with the merchants who traded both products. Robert S. P. Beekes has suggested a pre-Greek origin of the ethnonym. The oldest attested form of the word in Greek may be the Mycenaean po-ni-ki-jo, po-ni-ki, possibly borrowed from Ancient Egyptian: fnḫw  (literally "carpenters", "woodcutters"; likely in reference to the famed Lebanon cedars for which the Phoenicians were well-known), although this derivation is disputed. The folk etymological association of Φοινίκη with φοῖνιξ mirrors that in Akkadian, which tied kinaḫni, kinaḫḫi "Canaan" to kinaḫḫu "red-dyed wool".
The land was natively known as 𐤐𐤕 (Pūt) and its people as the 𐤐𐤍𐤉𐤌 (Pōnnim). In the Amarna letters of the 14th century BC, people from the region called themselves Kenaani or Kinaani, equivalent to Canaanite. The common Canaanite identity was gradually differentiated into regional subgroups, of which the Phoenicians were one, so they continued to use Canaanite as one of their self-designations. Thus, much later, in the sixth century BC, Hecataeus of Miletus writes that Phoenicia was formerly called χνα khna, a name that Philo of Byblos later adopted into his mythology as his eponym for the Phoenicians: "Khna who was afterwards called Phoinix". The ethnonym survived in North Africa until the fourth century AD (see Punic language). As late as the 3rd century, as mentioned by Augustine of Hippo, an African identified himself as Chanani. Conversely, the names of the inhabitants of most prominent Phoenician cities Tyre and Sidon could sometimes also be used to refer to Phoenicians in general, so that for instance the self-designation Sorim, Tyrians, was used in Tripolitania.
Cover of a Phoenician anthropoid sarcophagus
of a woman, made of marble, 350–325 BC, from Sidon
, now in the Louvre