Flower Baby Names: Unearthing their hidden meanings
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.
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on June 9th, 2013 at 11:23 pm
I really like Magnolia and Bluebell 🙂
on June 9th, 2013 at 11:41 pm
I always like Tansy as a nn for Anastasia. This meaning for it made me laugh.
on June 10th, 2013 at 12:45 am
I love flower names. Clover, Lavendar, Daisy, Violet, Lilac and Olive were all on our list for our last LO if he had been a she 🙂
on June 10th, 2013 at 1:43 am
I love some of these names a lot. Azalea, Betony, Clover, Holly, Honeysuckle, Lavender, Olive, Primrose and Rosemary are all gorgeous. And Ivy is a new love of mine, the bad thing is it’s so popular:(
on June 10th, 2013 at 2:31 am
Ok I really want twin girls named Tansy and Poppy now.
on June 10th, 2013 at 4:33 am
Gee carnation is a bit capricious: “You fascinate me. But go away”.
on June 10th, 2013 at 7:28 am
I love Camellia – would Camellia nn Ella be too much of a stretch?
on June 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am
Fun post! I love the idea behind floriography adding extra meaning to a flower name.
My grandmother had the most vicious cat named Tansy. The meaning is so appropriate!
on June 10th, 2013 at 9:06 am
I love Betony – I think it would make a great name.
on June 10th, 2013 at 10:17 am
I really like Bay, Calla and Sage, some I can’t really see as names like, Snowdrop, Mistletoe and Cherry Blossom but they would be fun!
on June 10th, 2013 at 2:03 pm
This was so interesting and has made me fall in more in love with the name Angelica!!
She’s such a beautiful name.
on June 10th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
My mother’s name is Camellia. I never really considered it might be fashionable someday. 🙂 I would absolutely use Juniper and Zinnia.
on June 10th, 2013 at 8:38 pm
I really like Zinnia. To me it’s a close alternative to Zelda. I wish it would catch on. Right now, I am hesitant to put it on my “will-use” list because the only “known” person named Zinnia is an atheist activist. No disrespect to anyone, but I am very spiritual person. I guess what I’m trying to say is I wish there were more Zinnia’s and more famous Zinnia’s to look up to.
Juniper would be lovely…softer and more fem to me than Piper or Harper.
Mimosa and Azalea are also cute.
Eleanor Nickerson Said
on June 11th, 2013 at 5:25 pm
Thanks for the kind comments!
@calypsotheoneandonly I would say Ella works perfectly as a nickname for Camellia. Especially as the stress falls on the ‘El’.
@Haannahh, believe it or not, Cherry, Blossom and Snowdrop were not unheard of in the late 19th century.
on January 28th, 2014 at 2:50 am
Was Dahlia common? I think it would be a great middle name option..
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