Friday, January 24, 2014


I seem to have a trend of calling most nature names unisex (as I feel most are). Well, if you are looking for a balls-to-the-wall, badass girl name, look no further than this gem.
Artemisia is a large (200-400 species!!) and diverse genus of plants in the Asteraceae family (also known as the daisy family). The plants range from hardy flowering plants to shrubs and are pretty well known for their chemical properties. Some notable species include those commonly known as mugwort, sagebrush, sagewort, wormwoos, tarragon, and southernwood. These things are everywhere and can survive in most climates. Most species have strong, sweet aromas, but have a bitter taste when consumed. All species are used as a food source for insects in the Lepidoptera family, including the Monarch butterfly and the Luna moth.
The name Artemisia is properly pronounced ar-te-miz-eeah and comes from the widely worshipped goddess Artemis of the Greek pantheon (also known as Diana in Roman mythology).  Some scholars actually believe that her name and the goddess herself pre-date ancient Greek culture. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo (the sun god). She was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth (in the Hellenistic time period-prior the goddess Eileithyia had this role), and virginity. She was called upon as a protector of young girls and to bring relief to ailing women. Artemis was typically depicted as a youthful, athletic huntress with bow and arrow. Deer, cypress trees, amaranth, and asphodel were her sacred symbols.
Wormwood and tarragon are probably the most commonly known species of Artemisia. Tarragon is a popularly used culinary herb that is especially important in French cuisine. Tree wormwood (known as sheeba in Arabic) is Middle Eastern bitter herb usually blended with mint to make tea. Other subspecies of wormwood are used to make/flavor different alcoholic beverages including vermouth (though it is no longer commonly used and has been replaced with a different blend of herbs), Malort, and absinthe. Absinthe in particular has a pretty colorful history and has been historically banned in several countries as it has been thought as a highly addictive psychoactive drug. It has since been shown to not be any more dangerous than any other spirit drink. It has long been associated with bohemian culture and was a favorite drink of Hemingway, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley (interesting fellow, you should look him up if you are interested in the occult). Another species, Artemisinin, is used to treat malaria.
Different species of Artemisia, notably wormwood, are referenced throughout the Torah and the Bible and is always used to implicate bitterness. Wormwood is mentioned 7 times throughout the Torah and once in the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, the star that is cast by the angel and falls into the Earth’s water, making them undrinkable is named Wormwood. In Hamlet, the words “Wormwood, wormwood” are used by one character to imply the bitterness of the queen has just said. C.S. Lewis used the name Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters for a young, inexperienced demon who was tasked with guiding a man to Satan.
Historically, there have been two queens named Artemisia. Atermisia II of Caria was a constantly in mourning queen for only 2 years and is known for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) which she constructed to perpetuate the memory of her dead husband/brother Mausolus. Equally as melodramatic was Artemisia I of Caria who reigned in the 5th century B.C. Renowned as a warrior queen who joined Xerxes in his battle against the Greeks at Salamis, she later convinced him to abandon his invasion of Greece. After the war, she fell in love with a man who did not return her feelings, so she jumped from a cliff to her death. Apparently ancient Greece was a gloomy place to be a woman. Luckily, the name was also worn by a botanist and medical researcher in the mid-3rd century B.C. and the 17th century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi and they were a lot less dreary.
Artemisia (and Artemis and Wormwood, since they were also sort of profiled) has never been a popular name, though I have found some use during the Victorian flower name craze. I think it is a great blend of dark mystery and princess. If I could associate anything with this name, it would be a medieval princess dressed as knight. It is a particularly frilly name, so if that is your style, this is definitely a wonderful choice.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Sorry for such the long hiatus, unannounced. With all the holidays, I was swamped with family events and commitment. Forgive me? Let’s start the New Year with a name that I have found to be polarizing in popular opinion: Nettle.
Commonly thought of as a troublesome weed, (thus the sometimes negative reaction people have to the thought of having a child named after one) I think the plant is largely misunderstood. To begin, there are six subspecies of true nettle – some “sting”, some do not. Though part of a different genus, other plants bearing the name “nettle” are known as deadnettle or henbit nettle (which are actually named lamiums). A fun fact is there is actually a species of jellyfish known as sea nettles. The plants are native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America. The nettles that sting do so by injecting histamine and other bio-chemicals through needle-like hairs on the stems and leaves. It is one of the first plants to grow in an area where contamination has taken place in the earth, signifying the ground is now good for use.
The word “nettle” is thought to have come from the Middle/Old English word netele – meaning needle as it refers to the stinging hairs. As a verb, being nettled or nettling is to irritate, annoy, or provoke. There is an Australian idiom (“grasp the nettle”) that basically means to tackles an unpleasant task. References to the plant are scattered throughout the Bible (mostly with negative connotations), notably in Proverbs 24:30-31 and Job 30:7, though there is some debate on which actual plant is being referenced. Many believe the intended plant is actually thistle, bramble (blackberry bush), a species of wild mustard, or some other thorny plant. I’ve only found one popular culture reference of this word being used as a name: the Disney television show Sofia the First where the name is bestowed upon an evil fairy (Ms. Nettle).
Wow, a lot of negative and very little positive thus far. The good news is, despite the bad reputation, this herbaceous plant has a lot of positive uses and is actually quite a lovely companion plant instead of just an annoying weed. Its use medicinally goes back into antiquity. Nettle is one of the nine plants invoked in the 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem Nine Herbs Charms which was intended as a treatment for poisoning and infection. The poem repeatedly references the numbers 9 and 3 which were numbers significant to Germanic paganism (the poem also mentions the Germanic god Woden), however it also contains Christian elements. After the poem was chanted aloud 3 times over each herb, the nine herbs were crushed into dust and mixed with apple juice and were poured into the mouth, ears, and over the wound and then applied as a salve. In Austrian traditional medicine, the leaves are eaten or brewed into a tea to treat kidney and urinary tract infections, disorders of the skin and cardiovascular system, hemorrhage, flu, and gout. Modernly, nettle leaves are commonly used for treatment of arthritis in Germany. It is, apparently, also good for making your hair glossy and fighting dandruff as it is used in shampoos. The plant is also a great foodstuff for humans and the fibers from its stems can be used in textiles. (Note worthy: nettle grows well without pesticides and would make a great cost-effective alternative to cotton if you can deal with the coarser fibers) In the garden, the growth of nettle indicates high soil fertility. It also encourages beneficial insects; it is an exclusive food source for several species of butterfly and moth, namely the Peacock Butterfly, The Gothic Moth, and The Flame Moth. Sometimes, the roots provide food for the Ghost Moth.
Nettle has never been a common given name. It is actually much more common as a surname. I have seen two groups of people who actually see the appeal of this name: the nature loving and the “gothic”. I happen to belong to the former; however I do see why it would appeal to the latter. I personally love this name and it is in my top 2 choices for if I ever have another daughter. It is decidedly gender neutral as a name and would be a lovely and intriguing, if not daring, choice on either a baby boy or girl.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


                I have a strange obsession with Welsh mythology, language, and of course names. Something about classic Welsh names conjure the imagery of forests and meadows swaying in a gentle breeze. Ewig is one of these that just make me giddy. Ewig means “roe deer” or possibly “doe” and is pronounced AY-oo-wig. The roe deer gets its name comes from Proto-Indo-European root word rei which means “spotted”. It is possible that the name roe also stemmed from the ancient word for the color red.
                The European or Western roe deer are a species of deer found throughout the Eurasian continent (there is also a Siberian roe deer of the Ural Mountains, China, and Siberia that is somewhat larger and is a distinctly separate species). They are primarily active in the twilight hours and will not venture into areas that house or have ever housed livestock because the grass is not suitable for consumption (talk about picky eaters). They are very vocal creatures and males have a differing voice than females whose voices are typically higher pitched. Adult roe deer are known to abandon their young if another animal or human has been near it.
                Famously, the roe deer is recognizable as the character Bambi was one in the books Bambi, A Life in the Woods and Bambi’s Children by Felix Salten. This was of course before Walt Disney Studios decided to make the story into a feature film where they changed the title character to be a white-tailed deer in the North American wilderness because white-tails are more recognizable to the American public. A roe deer also played a pivotal role in the medieval legend of Genevieve or Brabant, a story that is said to be loosely based on Marie of Brabant, wife of Louis II. The story is of a woman who was falsely accused of infidelity and was sentenced to death. The executioner, however, showed her mercy and she took her son into the wilderness of Ardennes where a roe would bring them food. When it was discovered that the accusations against her were false, her husband went searching for her and the roe brought them together. The real life of Marie didn’t end so happily, but the legend has been referenced in several books and has been adapted into several plays, operas, and films in Europe.
                As far as my research can find, Ewig is not popular in Wales and is relatively unheard of outside of its native country. Like many Welsh names, it may have pronunciation issues as if someone is not familiar with Welsh phonics they may pronounce EE-wig, but I don’t necessarily see it as a deterrent. Traditionally, this name is girl name and, despite the hard –ig ending, it does have a feminine feel. This is definitely an interesting choice that I would love to see in use.

Friday, November 15, 2013


                Now, we will move on to my son’s name: Pyrus. At first glance, this may not appear to be a nature name at all, but don’t be fooled. Pyrus is the genus name of all pear trees and shrubs in the family Rosaceae. It is also the scientific name of the fruit itself. Pyrus is the Greek form of the Latin word pirus which simply means “pear tree”. The word pear originated from the west Germanic pera meaning “fruit”. The name is properly pronounced PYE-rus.
                Pear trees are native to the temperate climates of Europe, Africa, and Asia and vary in size (some species are considered shrubs). It is thought that the genus originated in western China. Most are deciduous – meaning they lose their leaves during the colder months – but a couple of species in Southeast Asia are evergreen. Pear trees are particularly hardy plants and can withstand extreme temperatures. There is strong evidence that pears were a food source for people in early history, though not all plants in the genus produce edible fruit as some are grown as ornamental trees. In ancient Greece, the fruit was used to treat nausea. Pear tree wood is popularly used to make woodwind instruments and it doesn’t warp. The leaves were smoked in Europe before widespread cultivation of tobacco.
                Symbolically, the pear tree is revered for its strength and fortitude and has appeared as an important symbol dating back to ancient mythology. In ancient Germanic regions, the tree symbolized the birth of a female baby and the family of every female child would plant one for each girl born as they believed the fruitfulness and the longevity the tree is known for would provide their daughters with strength and a long, happy marriage. In China, the pear tree and its fruit have been commonly depicted in artworks because they symbolize longevity. Marco Polo noted after his visit to China that the people planted so many of these trees because they believed the planter of the tree would achieve a long life.
                I chose to profile this name now because of the upcoming Christmas season. My son was born very close to Christmas and we partially chose his name because of its connection with the popular Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Despite its seemingly nonsensical lyrics, the carol is actually deeply Christian (I wasn’t aware of this until I started researching to write this entry). From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were forbidden to openly practice their faith as the church of state was Anglican. The song was written sometime within that time period as a way to teach children to remember what to be thankful for and each gift represents the many gifts from god (god being the true love in the song). Here are the gifts:
v  The Partridge in a Pear Tree was Jesus Christ (the partridge represents Christ himself whereas the tree is mankind’s salvation)
v  The Two Turtle Doves represent the two testaments of the Bible
v  The Three French Hens stood for faith, hope, and love
v  The Four Calling Birds were the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
v  The Five Golden Rings stood for the Torah which is the first five books in the Old Testament
v  The Six Geese A-Laying represent the six days of creation
v  The Seven Swans A-Swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy)
v  Eight Maids A-Milking are the eight beatitudes given by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount (located in the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10 if you are interested)
v  Nine Ladies Dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control)
v  The Ten Lords A-Leaping are the ten commandments
v  The Eleven Pipers Piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples of Christ.
v  The Twelve Drummers Drumming symbolize the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed
The only pop culture usages of the actual name Pyrus I have found have been in video games and the name of a character in one episode of Stargate: SG-1. Two of the video games are ShadowCores and Bakugan. In ShadowCores, Pyrus is a master sorcerer and in Bakugan it is the name of a region (it is called Nova in the Japanese version). The last one is an old (old being like 1993) PC game called Blake Stone where the villain is named Dr. Pyrus Goldfire who plans to conquer the Earth and enslave humanity. That’s about the extent of my knowledge on these games as I have never played them.
Pyrus is not a popular name. In fact, most people have never heard of it. The only baby name site that I have found any reference to it is British Baby Names. Because it is not a widely used name, it isn’t really gender specific, but it definitely feels masculine to me. The “s” ending is definitely on trend with baby boy names and the name actually feels very vibrant and fiery. I would definitely be delighted to see a few other Pyrus’s in the world (or even if it could get at least 5 uses in one year to make the U.S. SSA long list would be nice, so people would stop thinking I made it up).

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Hello all and welcome to my blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide insight into some not so common botanical and nature names that could possibly be accessed for children. The scope of baby names has broadened significantly, but those of us in search of something a little different than the mainstream find little solace in baby name books and websites. I personally identify with nature and am obsessed with botany which reflects in my name tastes.
Let’s kick this off with my eldest child’s name: Juniper. Junipers are coniferous (evergreen) plants of the genus Juniperus that can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, Africa, and the Americas. Around 60-70 different species belong in this genus and they range in size (some are considered shrubs and others are trees). They produce berries with a heavenly scent that can be used as a spice, but are notably used for the production of gin. Native Americans, particularly the Navajo, used junipers and their berries for treatment of diabetes and as contraception. A 17th century herbalist named Nicholas Culpeper noted that juniper berries could be used to treat asthma and sciatica as well as to help speed up childbirth. In Southeast Asia and the Asian Pacific, they are the one of the most popular trees used to create bonsai.
The tree name Juniper comes from the Latin word “juniperus” (hence the genus name) which is a combination of the word junio (young) and parere (to produce), paralleling the fact that these trees are evergreen or forever youthful (I find this interesting because, to me, trees symbolize rebirth and immortality because of their cycles with the seasons. For a tree to be forever youthful holds such a beautiful meaning to me). Other forms of the name are the Italian Ginepro/Ginevra, the French Genievre, and Merywen in Welsh. In some dialects of French, the plant is known as Genevieve; however this name derives from the Latin word genovefa (wife/kin) and thus is unrelated.
It was pointed out to me at some point after my daughter was born that junipers hold religious symbolism within Christianity and are mentioned twice in the Bible. In the Old Testament, a juniper tree housing an angel sheltered Elijah from Queen Jezebel when she pursued him. Later, a juniper tree was also used to hide the baby Jesus and his parents from King Herod’s army while they were fleeing to Egypt. In the Renaissance, the tree was widely accepted as a symbol of chastity. In ancient Wales, the tree was sacred and cutting down one was believed to bring the death of the cutter within a year. It was once believed in Germany that a female spirit dwelled within juniper trees (she was named Frau Wachholder) and she would make thieves return stolen goods. Even in more modern superstition, in certain parts of Europe, burning branches of the tree are carried throughout fields to protect livestock. In many Asian countries, juniper trees are symbols of fertility, longevity, strength, and athleticism.
Juniper trees are present within the arts. In Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Ginevra de’Benci, a juniper tree is depicted in the background as well as the subject’s name being the Italian form of Juniper (this was going along with the Renaissance theme of chastity). A popular Grimm Fairy Tale titled “The Juniper Tree” is the story of a mother buried beneath a tree and her spirit that inhabits the tree and, by extension, a baby bird that was hatched in the tree which she uses to avenge the death of her son at hands of her husband’s new wife. In modern literature, the use of the given name Juniper is noted in the Junie B. Jones series, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary (a retelling of Riddles Wisely Expounded). There is also a character named Juniper in the Percy Jackson series. One of the title characters from an early Johnny Depp movie, Benny & Joon, is also named Juniper and Reese Witherspoon portrays a woman named Juniper in her film Mud.  My husband fell in love with this name due to the song “Jennifer Juniper” by Donovan and, more particularly, the line “Jennifer Juniper, lilacs in her hair.”
As a given name, Juniper is technically a unisex name. It has never charted as a boy name, but one notable male Juniper is Saint Juniper (also known as “the jester of the Lord”) who is also known as the saint of comedy. He was also known for his patience. For girls, however, Juniper has surprisingly risen to some form of popularity (though not on the same level of Lily, Rose, Daisy, etc.). It first charted on the SSA top 1000 in the United States in 2011 where it ranked #970. It charted again in 2012 at #883. I still think this is as unique of a gem that I did when I was counting my daughter’s fluttering butterfly kicks. I am not convinced that this is cemented in either gender, even though I chose it for a girl. It is your choice.