Arbor Day Names: If you love the tree but not the name

April 25, 2019 Clare Green

By Clare Green

Happy Arbor Day! The last Friday in April is National Arbor Day in the US, a day dedicated to planting and celebrating trees. It’s a holiday in Nebraska, where the tradition started back in 1872. Some states have their own Arbor Day at different times of the year, depending on the climate. In Florida it’s as early as January, in Alaska it’s May, and Hawaii celebrates in November.

What does that have to do with names? Tree baby names are a big trend today, with many parents choosing one that represents the strength, beauty and importance of trees. Tree names in the US Top 1000 include Hazel, Willow, Rowan, Aspen, Magnolia, Holly and Laurel, as well as spinoffs like Oakley and Ashton. Even rarer names like Cedar, Cypress and Maple have seen an uptick in recent years.

But what if you love the tree, but not the name? It may be too unusual or popular for you, or just not your style. For me with my colorful surname, a lot of nature word names sound too phrasey. Meet my daughter, Hazel Green

Never fear, there are plenty of subtle alternatives that will let you celebrate your favorite trees without literally using their names. Here’s our pick of twelve well-known trees, plus a bonus Forrest.

Instead of Ash
Try making it longer: options include Ashton, Ashwin, and even Asher. As well as being biblical, Asher also has roots in an Old English name meaning “ash army.” Nash is a surname derived from the tree. For girls, Melia was a nymph of the ash tree in Greek myth, and Irish Aisling has a different origin but the same sound.

Instead of Elm
The English word for this tall, sturdy tree is rare as a name, but the Cornish Elowen is a name-lovers’ favorite and is starting to see more use in real life. Unisex Lennox comes from the Gaelic for a grove of elm trees. Embla, the first woman in Norse myth, has long been connected with the elm – perhaps she sprung out of it. If you’re feeling truly daring, Ptelea was the Greek spirit of this tree.

Instead of Forrest
Can’t decide which tree you like best? Forrest covers them all. It took a dip in popularity in the 1990s after Forrest Gump, but now it’s on the way back up. If you prefer a more subtle allusion to the woods, Holt and Grove have a similar meaning. There’s also Roscoe and the family of names that includes Silas, Sylvester and Sylvie.

Instead of Hazel
Aveline is the French word for a hazelnut, and a little twist on popular Evelyn. If you like the sounds of Hazel but are not sold on the tree, try streamlining it to Haze, Hayes, or Zell.

Instead of Holly
The surname Hollis comes from this tree, and the medieval English word for it is Hollin. Unisex Welsh Celyn and Irish Cullen are fresh alternatives from the Celtic side, or you could the holly’s brightest feature: Berry.

Instead of Laurel
This is one of the freshest Laur- names around today. But if it’s not quite right for you, you might like an elaboration like Laurelie, or an international version like Laurent. The Greek name Daphne is another option, familiar but not over-popular.

Instead of Linden
The lime, or linden, was traditionally used to make shields. So how about something with a protective meaning, like Edmund or Alexandra?

Instead of Oak
You could do a straight translation of this robust tree name, like the Irish Dara (and possibly Adair), or Hebrew Alon and Alona. Or you could get more symbolic. For example, the oak is a symbol of strength, so a name with a strong meaning like Valentina or Hardy would have a similar sense. For bonus points, scramble the letters of oak and you get the Hawaiian Koa, another type of tree.

Instead of Pine
No one’s really using this needly evergreen as a first name (it’s never been in the US name data). But the Hebrew version Oren is handsome, and Pinja is sometimes used in Finland. Other conifers that make good names are the Douglas fir (actually a type of pine, fyi), the Fraser fir, and the Huon pine of Tasmania.

Instead of Redwood
Giant redwoods are magnificent, but the name? Not so easy for a child to wear. Sequoia, the name of the tree family, is used for both boys and girls. Or you might be inspired by the nicknames of the most famous redwoods. General Sherman is the largest known tree in the world by volume, Jupiter is the stoutest coast redwood, and boldly-named Hyperion is the tallest tree in the world.

Instead of Rowan
Change up the spelling to Rohan, the ultimate India-Middle Earth crossover, or Roan, like the horse. Because the rowan tree is best known for its red berries, any baby name meaning red – such as Rufus or Scarlett – would make a neat link to the tree.

Instead of Willow
You could use a place name containing a secret willow, like Willoughby or Wilton, or swap in a name with a similar sound, such as Willa or Willem. The Latin name for the tree, Salix, might appeal to biology-lovers…Sally for short?

Instead of Yew
The tree of archery and burial grounds isn’t really used as a name in English, for obvious reasons: it sounds just like “you.” Looking to other languages, we find names like Ivo, Yvonne and Evora, plus those that start with the same sound, like Ewan and Eulalia.

Would you branch out and use any of these alternative arboreal names? Would you add anything to the list? Or do you prefer them in the original?

About the author

Clare Green

Clare Green writes Nameberry's weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world . Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.

View all of Clare Green's articles


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