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.

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