Flower baby names are hot favourites for modern British parents. So much so that, when all the spellings are added together, Lily has ranked as the most popular girls name in England and Wales for the last two years. Other Top 100 choices include Daisy, Poppy, Holly, Jasmine and Rose, with Violet, Iris and Ivy not far behind.
And this is nothing new; the British love of floral names is long established. The Edwardians took their love of flowers and elevated them to the heights of fashion in girls’ names.
But, before they took off as names, flowers were used as an intricate form of communication known, quite grandly, as floriography. If a Victorian lady received flowers, she would automatically consult her floriography handbooks and dictionaries (which helpfully attributed meanings and phrases to a variety of flowers) to see what messages were being conveyed. A white rose meant “I am worthy of you;” a Carolina rose meant “Dangerous love,” while a full rose placed over two buds meant “Secrecy.”
Some handbooks were more widely used than others and, although there were, generally, many similarities between the definitions, there appears to have been no definitive consensus. It was clearly important that a courting couple were reading from the same flower dictionary as it could have meant the difference between a kiss and a slap.
Below is a list of plant-names with their floriographic meaning attributed. I have used several Victorian floriography handbooks as a source and opted for the most frequently attributed meaning when there have been inconsistencies.
Acacia – Friendship. Elegance (Pink/White), Secret Love (Yellow)
Amaranth – Immortality.
Amaryllis – Splendid beauty. Timidity. Pride.
Ambrosia – Love returned.
Angelica – Inspiration.
Aster – Variety.
Azalea – Temperance.
Bay – Glory.
Belladonna – Silence.
Betony – Surprise.
Bluebell – Constancy.
Calla (lily) – Magnificent beauty.
Camellia – Unpretending excellence.
Carnation – Fascination. Refusal.
Celandine – Joys to come.
Cherry Blossom – Good education.
Clematis – Mental beauty.
Clover – Industrious (red). Think of me (white).
Coronella – Success.
Dahlia – Dignity and elegance.
Daisy – Innocence.
Fern – Fascination.
Fuschia – Taste.
Hazel – Reconciliation.
Holly – Foresight.
Honeysuckle – Generous and devoted affection.
Hyacinth – Sports, games, play.
Iris – Message.
Ivy – Friendship. Fidelity.
Jasmine – Amiability.
Jonquil – Returned affection.
Juniper – Succour, protection.
Justicia – The perfection of female loveliness.
Laurel – Glory. Ambition.
Lavender – Devotion. Distrust.
Lilac – First emotions of love (purple). Youthful innocence (white).
Lily – Purity. Majesty.
Lotus – Eloquence.
Magnolia – Love of nature.
Marigold – Grief.
Marjoram – Blushes.
Mignionette – Your qualities surpass your charms.
Mimosa – Sensitiveness.
Mistletoe – I rise above all / surmount all difficulties.
Myrtle – Love.
Olive – Peace.
Pansy – (You are in my) Thoughts.
Peony – Bashfulness.
Poppy – Consolation (red). Fantastic extravagance (scarlet).
Primrose – Early youth.
Rose – Love.
Rosebud – Pure and lovely (red). Girlhood (white).
Rosemary – Remembrance.
Sage – Esteem.
Snowdrop – Hope.
Tansy – I declare war against you.
Tulip – Fame.
Violet – Modesty.
Zephyr Flower – Expectation.
Zinnia – Thoughts of absent friends.
Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the excellent, highly recommended blog British BabyNames.