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Tell Me Why: People Named for Plants December 15, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I found myself thinking about people who are (intentionally or otherwise) named for plants. Given the importance of plants in our lives, I was surprised by how few names I could think of that plants and people share. Here’s my list: Rose, Rosa, Lily, Violet, Poppy, Fern, Holly, Ivy, Ash, Willow, Laurel, Linden, Olive, Olivia, Rosemary, Basil, and, as a surname, Bush, Flower, Birch, Berry, and Hawthorn(e).

That’s a pretty skinny list. Why aren’t girls named Forsythia, Peony, Goldenrod, or Daffodil? If people are named Holly and Ivy, why aren’t they named Mistletoe and Pine? If you can be named for an ash or a willow, why aren’t people named Maple, Oak, or Walnut?

Then there’s Rosemary. What happened to Parsley, Sage, and Thyme? And what about our fruits and vegetables? Where are Carrot, Lettuce, and Radish, or Plum, Apple, and Quince? (Well, maybe Quincy counts, but somehow I doubt it. If memory serves, that’s from the French and refers to a place, not a plant.)

What am I leaving out? I’m sure I’ve forgotten some obvious names, so please remind me. And any theories on why there aren’t more?

            ‘Til next time,




1. Barbee' - December 15, 2010

I have known of women named Marigold and Althea (Rose of Sharon), plus, a local botanist and his wife named their daughter Flora. Personally, I think that is delightful considering her father’s vocation.

I knew it, Barbee’! I can’t believe I forgot Flora, and of course Althea, a popular Regency name, should join the list, as should Melissa (lemon balm). I’ve never encountered anyone named Marigold, but what a cheerful name! Thanks for your additions!

2. mr_subjunctive - December 15, 2010

Well, there’s Iris, Flora, and Daisy. Viola, arguably, counts. And Heather.

And some famous person I don’t remember (Gwyneth Paltrow?) did name a child Apple.

Lem[m]on is a known, if uncommon, last name.

There’s at least a fictional Hyacinth. (Hyacinth Bucket, from “Keeping Up Appearances,” whose sisters are Violet, Daisy, and Rose: one of the running jokes is that “Bucket” is prounounced “bouquet.”)

Clementine is a stretch, since I think the fruit was named for the human name, not the other way around, but if we’re being flexible enough. . . .

A Japanese writer has taken the pen name Banana Yoshimoto, though I suppose that only sort of counts. (Kitchen is quite a good book, by the way.)

The surname Palmer is supposedly from “palm tree.”

My baby name book lists: Acacia (long version of Casey), Ada (an orchid genus), Alyssa (derived from Alyssum), Anthea (“like a flower”), Arlo (“barberry”), Birch, Blossom, Branch, Chaney/Cheney (“oak wood”), Cherry (short version of Charity, supposedly, though I imagine some people would like Cherry on its own), Chloe (“young grass”), Cicero (“chickpea”), Clover, Dahlia, Daphne (“laurel tree”), Dianthe, Erica, Eugenia, Fabian (“bean-grower”), Frazer/Frasier/Frazier (“strawberry”), Geneva (“juniper tree”), Germain/Jermaine (“sprout, bud”), Ginger, Hana (“flower,” Japanese), Hazel (hazel-nut tree), Hortense (“gardener”), Ilana (“big tree”), Jacinto (“hyacinth”), Jasmine, Laura (“crown of laurel leaves”), Liana, Lilac, Linnea (“lime tree”), Lotus, Mandel (“almond”), Marguerite, Mauve (a plant of the mallow family before it was a color), Melba (“mallow flower”), Myrtle, Nerine, Oakes/Oakley (“from the oak trees”), Oren/Orin (“pine tree,” Hebrew) Pansy, Petunia, Phyllis (“green bough”), Rhianna (“sweet basil”), Rosabel/Rosalba/Rosalyn/Roseanne, Sabra (“thorny cactus;” Hebrew), Susan (“lily”), Tamara (“palm tree”), Tansy, Timothy, Yolanda (form of Violet), Zahara (“flower”)

Sage would be a weird name because of the adjectival meaning — that’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. Peony doesn’t really work once you start thinking about what moderately clever schoolchildren could do for nicknames.

Ha! I knew I could count on you, Mr. S.! And I knew I’d forget some really obvious ones, like Heather, Ginger, Hazel, Daisy, and Iris. (Shame on me!) I refrained from listing Hyacinth, since I wasn’t sure if Mrs. Bucket’s name was purely for comic relief (still haven’t seen the series, still must). And I’ll check out Banana’s book. I actually think Sage would be a great name for a boy, like Merlin, a burden and a blessing. Anyway, MANY thanks for the elucidation!

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