February Gardening: The Edwardian era as the heyday of flower names for girls
What’s in a Flowery Name?
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Gardeners – and others – delight in naming their daughters after flowers. Running the gambit from Althea to Zebrina there’s a garden of delight gurgling in the cradle.
Flower names are blossoming once more, writes Ken Thompson in U.K.-based The Daily Telegraph. Having diligently researched records assembled by Brit bureaucrats who presumably have nothing better to occupy their time, he proclaims that, “Old-fashioned floral names that hark back to the Edwardian era are increasingly popular among our bright young things.”
It is hard to believe that assigning members of the distaff side of the family to flowery things ever really dropped off in that Mecca of modern gardening, the British Isles. If not by gardeners then you can rely on members of the celebrity set. Drew Barrymore’s daughter Olive wilts beside the likes of Bluebell Madonna (d. of Geri Haliwell) or Jamie and Jools Oliver’s triple treat of Daisy Boo, Poppy Honey and Petal Blossom Rainbow. And what possessed actor Ingo Rademacher and Ehiku to lumber their progeny with the name of Peanut (surely better suited to a urologist)?
No, we must return to the starting point of Althea, ancient Greek for healer and commemorated Althaea officinalis or marsh mallow. Also from the same source is Amaryllis, a shepherdess from Greek mythology who gave her name to A. belladonna, the Jersey Lily. Turning to Latin sources, there is also the angelic Anglica, from anglus an ‘angelic’ medicinal and a rather uncommon garden plant these days.
Thompson cites the Edwardian era as the heyday of flower names for girls, with Daisy, Iris, Ivy, Lily, May, Olive, Rose and Violet all in the top 100 from 1904 to 1914 then declined in popularity. More recently some such as Daisy, Lily and Rose have grown in acceptance once again, to be joined by Holly, Jasmine, Phoebe and Poppy. Alas, according to Thompson, Veronica (speedwell), Melissa (lemon balm), Prunella and Nigella all failed to make the grade.
Camellia, after the Duchess of Cornwall, derives from the name of the flower but a caution here with the spelling: the Italian Camilla refers to an attendant at a sacrifice.
Daphne, Fern, Hazel, Laura, Marguerite, Marigold, Myrtle, Pansy, Rosemary, Vanessa and Viola are all to be met with on an almost everyday basis, at least outside the confines of the British Isles. Surprisingly, Ginger is uncommon as a first name – although possibly a nickname – given the former predominance of film star Ginger Rogers.
Less astonishing are such as Flora and Florence – flower and blooming, respectively in Latin. And one would have to look in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse for Hortense, or gardener from the name of a Roman clan. Also from the Latin is Sylvia, or she of the forest. Back with the Greek, Rhoda is a variant on Rose while Thalia means blooming.
Heather has remained perennially popular although Erica, the botanical classification of heather, is a variant as well as the feminine version of the masculine Eric. Calluna is another variation on the heather theme and the choice of a certain Canadian horticulturist for his second daughter. His first, returning us to our opening lines and the final letter of the alphabet, was named Zebrina.