Flower Name Meanings Hold Secrets

Flower Name Meanings Hold Secrets

Flower name meanings have an obvious side – the lovely blooms the names represent – but many flower names have secret meanings too.

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, in some cases the flower name meanings diverged. 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.

Secret Meanings of Flower Names

While courting couples may no longer shyly exchange secret messages via bouquets and tussy-mussies, parents considering flower names for their babies may want to investigate the hidden meanings of their favorite blooms.

These meanings could tie into family values, like Bluebell (constancy) or red Clover (hard work). Or, they could honor a departed friend or family member, through meanings like "remembrance" (Rosemary), or "thoughts of absent friends" (Zinnia).

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, 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, elegance

Daisy – innocence

Fern – fascination

Fuchsia – taste

Hazel – reconciliation

Holly – foresight

Honeysuckle – generous, devoted affection

Hyacinth – sport, games, play

Iris – message

Ivy – friendship, fidelity

Jasmine – amiability

Jonquil – returned affection

Juniper – support, protection

Justicia – perfect beauty

Laurel – glory, ambition

Lavender – devotion, distrust

Lilac – youthful innocence (white), first love (purple)

Lily – purity, majesty

Lotus – eloquence

Magnolia – love of nature

Marigold – grief

Marjoram – blushes

Mignonette – your qualities surpass your charms

Mimosa – sensitivity

Mistletoe – surmounting all difficulties

Myrtle – love

Olive – peace

Pansy – you are in my thoughts

Peony – bashfulness

Poppy – consolation, extravagance

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 lily – expectation

Zinnia – thoughts of absent friends

About the Author

Eleanor Nickerson

Eleanor Nickerson

Eleanor Nickerson, better known to Nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the blog British Baby Names.