Monday, February 3, 2014

The Nature of Nature Names

If you're a regular reader here, you've probably heard me say before that I love nature names. People often talk about choosing a name with "meaning", and I feel that nature names have meaning for everyone. They can help to give us a spiritual connection to the world around us, a respect for the power and beauty that surrounds us.

I was watching a show recently about what would happen to the planet if humans just disappeared from Earth tomorrow. The thing that struck me the most was that even with the massive amounts of pollution humans have already generated, and even though the nuclear power plants would meltdown and throw tons of radiation into the atmosphere, given just decades the trees and oceans would clean the atmosphere and plant and animal life would continue. The power of nature is awe-inspiring sometimes.

Normally, when we talk of nature names people think of names like River, Willow and Lily - nature words that are also used as names. But nature names can be so much subtler and more diverse than that. So instead of breaking them down by the usual categories such as trees, flowers, animals, gemstones etc, I thought I'd look at them in a slightly different way.

1. "Straightforward" Nature Word Names
These are the types of names I mentioned above - the names you'll find on any nature names list.

It's great to see how people's opinions of these names have changed over time. Compare for example the names Rose and River. Rose is an enduring classic. Since the first SSA records of 1880 Rose has been a top 500 name in the U.S. You almost forget it's actually a flower name, it's so established as a given name. River however would have been almost unthinkable as a given name in 1880. When it first charted for boys in the 1970's it was a rarity and considered to be a "hippy" name, as many other nature names also were at that time. This opinion would be the popular one for a couple of decades. By 2012 River is far from a rare novelty, charting at #407 for boys and #686 for girls.

In recent years we've seen female characters named both Rose and River on the popular TV show 'Doctor Who', and no one blinks an eye. Our attitudes as to what constitutes a "name" are relaxing, and even the most exotic nature word names are now fair game.

2. Nature Words with Dual Meanings
One of my favourite examples of this is Sage. Yes, it's a herbal nature name, but it also means wise. In addition to those that have "official" second meanings, many plants and stones have a history of associated meanings. For example, Alyssum is a flower name, means 'noble', and symbolises beauty. Ruby symbolises vitality and royalty. The extra meanings and symbolism traditionally attributed to these add an extra depth of meaning to a name. Just like the people they are naming, they have many facets to their personality.

3. "Normal" Names with Nature Meanings
It's like a sneaky little surprise. While people were busy deriding "hippy" names, they were overlooking plenty of "normal" names with nature meanings, such as Daphne (meaning 'laurel'), Paloma (meaning 'dove') or Audra (meaning 'storm'). If you desire a connection to nature but aren't so keen on word names, this might be the path for you.

4. Place and Surnames Derived from Nature
Lots of surnames were taken from the towns where people lived, and many towns were given their names based on the characteristics of the surrounding land. Aren't names with meanings such as 'east meadow', 'people of the riverside forest', 'place on the riverbank' or 'where birches grow' every bit as nature oriented as Meadow, Forest, River or Birch? Then meet Astley, Dresden, Reminton and Berkeley.

This style of nature name opens a lot of possibilities. It also offers more versatility, as they usually combine two or more elements into one. It could be the solution to honouring two loved ones with nature names of their own without necessarily creating a "new"smoosh-hybrid. Plus, they tend to be a bit preppier or "proper" sounding if you want a nature name with a bit more panache.

Whether you like your nature names to be boldly forthright or subtly surprising, the world of nature names is just as rich with choice and variety as nature itself is. In our ever changing world, nature is a constant all powerful force. I can only see them growing more popular. This month I'm all about nature names, so if there's one that you would like to see profiled this February, just let me know in the comments below!


  1. This is a smartly written piece!

    Would you put colors in this category? I know some do double-duty as you mentioned above (like Orchid--Pantone's color of the year and an exotic flower-- or Burgundy--a place and wine-- or Coral--a sea creature), but what about Brown (Bruin or Bruno) or Aquamarine (Cyan or Teal)?

    Would Peace or Serenity go in this category, too (since some find such things in nature)? Majesty, Endeavor, Triumph? Ooh, or Harmony and Patience?

    So interested on your thoughts! Love your blog!

  2. Good questions! And thanks for the compliments ☺

    I tend to think colours lean towards nature names. The seven colours of the rainbow come from light, and many other colours we have today exist because people were either creating dyes with natural substances, or were trying to recreate something they had seen in nature. And I find it so hard to think of the colour blue without picturing the ocean or the sky! So colours, yes.

    Words like Peace and Serenity, not so much. Certainly some people do associate these with nature, but they can also be found in other ways and sources. So I tend to think of them as word names. Or maybe call them nature adjacent? ☺

    It's funny that you mention the Pantone colour of the year, (Radiant) Orchid. I did last years colour - Emerald - so this one is definitely coming up this month!