Flower Baby Names: A rose by any other name…

Flower Baby Names: A rose by any other name…

By Joanna Walker

In Romeo & Juliet, Juliet faces a dilemma– she has fallen in love with the son of her father’s sworn enemy: a Montague. Juliet famously asks: “What’s in a name?” She concludes that names are irrelevant and uses the garden rose to illustrate her point “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Yet, as new parents, we spend oodles of time choosing our children’s names. We have the feeling that somewhere in the Nameberry archives is a perfect fit. Although names do not determine personality, they are often imbued with meaning, heritage, sentiment or aspiration. Some names are undoubtedly more wearable than others, fashions change and, whether we like it or not, names can have an influence on first impressions.

To answer the eternal question “What’s in a name?” we asked for the help of David Austin, a specialist rose breeder with seventy years of experience and eighteen gold medals from the Chelsea Flower Show. We were interested to find out how he names his roses.

David Austin Senior explains: “Names are simply ones we like the sound of, that roll off the tongue nicely.” Good examples include: “Adelaide d’Orleans” and “Alberic Barbier,” the repetition of the letter “d” in the case of Adelaide and “b” in the case of Alberic (consonance) brings a poetic quality to the name.

There is a high incidence of alliteration in David Austin’s rose names. Examples include: “Benjamin Britten,” “The Generous Gardener,” “Lady of the Lake,” “Morning Mist” and “Maid Marion.” It is interesting that the alliterative names tend not to relate to individuals. Opinions are divided on alliteration in names, but it can’t be denied that Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Mouse are irresistibly catchy.

Austin also strives to find names that are “generally British in some way.” A number of the roses employ strong imagery, evoking an English bygone era. Pastoral examples include: “A Shropshire Lad/Lass,” “Buttercup,” “The Lark Ascending” and “Malvern Hills.” There are also a number of virtue-inspired names, like “Constance Spry,” “Blythe Spirit” and “Félicité-Perpétue,” the Nameberry translation for which is FelicityPerpetua, meaning always happy.

Inspiration is also taken from historical writers, painters, musicians, literary characters and place names. In 2014, Sir Walter Scott and Desdemona varieties were introduced to the market. In fact, seven of the ten top-selling roses are named after individuals.

David Austin Senior says that he is not at all influenced by popular trends in baby names. Yet we do find the following roses within his collection: “Amelia” (top British name 2011 and 2012), “Alexander” (US No. 8 in 2013), “Charlotte” (US No. 11), “Evelyn” (US. No 20) and “Grace” (US No. 22). If Austin has an eye to the future then we might see the following names gaining traction: Alice, Agnes, Cressida, Dorothy, Ellen, Flora, Francesca and Juliet. More unusual names include Blanche, Callisto, Evangeline, Felicia, Indigo, Leander, Lucetta, Marlena, Penelope, Perdita, Tamora, Thelma and Thisbe. New to Nameberry are the rhyming sisters “Celsiana” and “Gloriana” and the no-nonsense “Wenlock,” also a beautiful medieval town in Shropshire and the name given to the British 2012 Olympic mascot.

David Austin Senior admits that names are important to perception, “the easiest way to kill off a good rose is to give it a bad name.” We can’t imagine that many people buy “Spong” on the strength of its name. Yet, he concedes, “if you love a rose then the name becomes much less important.” So it seems that names (of people and of roses) become much less important once we know them personally, which is exactly the point that Juliet makes.

So, to what extent do rose names mirror their personality? We’ve considered a few examples below.

Olivia: Nameberry describes Olivia as a “mega popular name,” currently Number 3 in the US and climbing, and a recent number 1 in the UK. In fact, “Olivia Rose Austin” is special because it is named after David Austin’s granddaughter. It is a lovely soft shade of pink with a fruity fragrance and its petal formation gives the impression of candyfloss.

Desdemona: In Shakespeare’s Othello, Desdemona is an innocent wife who meets with an undeserved death at the hands of her husband. She is remembered for the constancy of her faith, love and dignity.

The “Desdemona” rose is just as constant and resilient as its namesake, producing blooms from early summer until the first frosts and not being harmed by wet weather. The peachy pink buds convey femininity and youthfulness and when the buds open they reveal pure white blooms, symbolising the innocence and purity of Desdemona’s heart. “Desdemona” is also intensely fragrant, smelling of myrrh, an aromatic resin often used in Arab countries, which reminds us of Othello. It is surely no coincidence that the “Othello” rose is a dusky crimson colour with many thorns!

Hermione: Hermione was the faithful wife of Leontes, the King of Sicilia, and the mother of Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Hermione’s loyalty to her husband is matched by the strength and hardiness of her rose.

It seems that, more often than not, the rose names echo their character. Each has its own individual identity: some are gentle and sweet, others are dark and complex, some are noble and proud, others rambling and whimsical. Fragrances range from fruity to musky to spicy and their strength and stamina can vary. Traditionally roses are a symbol of love and beauty; the rose is also the national flower of England and a symbol of unity after the Wars of the Roses. Therefore rose varieties seem an appropriate source for name inspiration and you can find many more at

This article wouldn’t be complete unless I tackle a prickly little problem: the thorns. On this subject, I will leave you with a quote from Alphonse Karr: “some people grumble that roses have thorns, I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

I live in Singapore with my husband. My love of literature goes hand in hand with my love of literary characters and their names.

We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions for rose names.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.