Iris: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on February 18, 2013

Iris

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 12, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on February 18, 2013.

Before she was a flower, she was a god.

Our Baby Name of the Day is Iris.

It’s easy to dismiss her as just another pretty name in the garden of girls: Violet, Daisy, Lily, Rose.

Only the tale of Iris is far more ancient.

In Greek mythology, Iris served as messenger and was the personification of the rainbow – the link between the otherworldly and we mere mortals. She appears in works by Homer and Euripides, and you’ll find her in artwork shown as a young woman with wings on her shoulders.

The word has been doing double duty, referring to the rainbow and the bloom, for ages.  In Spanish, arco iris means rainbow. English has lost the direct linguistic connection, but the word iridescence – familiar to every child who has ever marveled at the shiny surface of a soap bubble – derives from the same root. And, of course, the iris is the colored part of our eyes.

But she’s best known as a sort of blue-violet color and a flower, though the flower comes in a rainbow of hues. And, of course, there’s Vincent Van Gogh’s pricey painting of blue-violet flowers, simply titled Irises. You can take your little girl to view it at the Getty in LA or even buy a print and hang it in the nursery.  While Iris as a goddess would have been known, it is likely her connection to the flower that boosted her use as a given name in recent centuries.

Unlike some pretty floral choices, Iris conveys strength and intelligence, too.  Doubtless that’s thanks to celebrated writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, born Jean Iris Murdoch.  Kate Winslet portrayed the young writer in a 2001 biopic. Winslet also played a far more very different Iris who finds transatlantic love in the 2006 romantic romp The Holiday.

The name has something of a sorrowful element, too. Jodie Foster’s breakthrough role was as jailbait prostitute Iris in the 1976 film Taxi Driver.  Many modern mamas probably think of another movie Iris – the chart-topping, tear-jerking ballad from 1998’s City of Angels, a Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan romance.

There are plenty of reasons Iris seems current in 2013:

  • With Isabella in vogue, other I names have gotten some attention.
  • We’re mad about nature names, especially floral names, for girls.
  • She’s a little bit granny chic, a sister for Agnes.
  • Yet she’s also at home with modern choices, like Carys.
  • Her status as a goddess name puts her in stylish company, too.

She’s been in steady use in the US, ranking #303 in 2011.  She was slightly more popular in the 1920s and 30s, but most years, she’s hovered between the 300s and 500s.  This makes Iris one of those elusive familiar-but-not-common choices parents crave.

Iris is also heard in Scandinavia and throughout the English-speaking world.  Filmmaker Judd Apatow and actress wife Leslie Mann have daughters named Iris and Maude, who have appeared in their parents’ productions.

If you’re searching for an uncommon botanical beauty that still sounds just right on an accomplished adult, Iris is certainly one to consider.

Original photo credit: Rainbow Study #2 by HBarrison via Flickr

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Mihaela October 16, 2013 at 10:34 AM

I am of Romanian origins (and citizen :) ) and my hubby is British-Cypriot. When I found out that I’m pregnant, I instantly came with a girl’s name: Iris (as Ee-r-ee-s). I’ve loved this name since ever. We wanted to choose something to embrace all her cultural heritage, to sound good in either Romanian, English or Greek language. And I am very happy and proud with our choice. We haven’t met another Iris yet, though is a Greek name and we live in Cyprus. Sometimes people refer to Irene with nickname Iris, but I really and truly don’t see/get the connection. So, sweet little names that we use for our daughter, are: Lyris, Irisuli

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Sarah February 20, 2013 at 10:57 PM

I met a 4-year-old Iris around Christmas time. She was the child of friends of a friend. I was excited to meet a child with a name you don’t hear often.

The other flower name I really like is Dahlia. It is often used in Hispanic and Middle Eastern cultures.

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Julie February 19, 2013 at 1:50 AM

One of my cousin’s twins has the middle name Iris… personally I prefer it up front, but it makes a smashing middle name. I can see why some people might prefer the peppy Lily or Poppy, but I think its the serious and grownup vibe of Iris that I like best.

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Liz February 18, 2013 at 7:18 PM

I think Mavis cd make a comeback! Love Iris and the rainbow connecting the realms! We thought of both Irene and iris for our first, but named her Ivy. She’s nearly 10 now.

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Havoye February 18, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Iris is another one we considered for our daughter – it’s my mother’s favourite flower and my husband liked the rainbow goddess thing, and I liked its short simplicity. It works well in both French and English and is currently trending upward both in France and the US.

Ultimately I found it a little too “old lady” for my taste, and now that my daughter is here I feel it wouldn’t have suited her very well. I do wonder if other -is names will come back into vogue – Phyllis, Doris, Mavis and Chloris don’t seem ready for a comeback, but maybe Lois will follow Eloise up the charts, and Avis will follow Ava? I guess we shall see. Lovely Greek names like Themis and Thais are charting upwards in France and I’d love to see them become more mainstream here.

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Amy3 February 18, 2013 at 10:37 PM

I love Phyllis, Doris, and Lois. I’d be thrilled to see them stage a comeback.

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Abigail February 18, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Ah! Why did i never think of this? Right this minute I’m reading a book called the Ugly Stepsister, about the sisters in Cinderella, told from the perspective of Iris, who is apparently one of the stepsisters. My mom’s favorite flower was the iris. She has passed away, and I’m not planning to use her name for future children, but everyone that knew her associated irises with her.

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Kara February 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM

Iris is my favorite flower and Iris is also my partner’s grandmother’s name- so there’s a strong likelihood we would use it if we had a daughter. But there’s something about it that is perhaps a little too on the stern side for me. Maybe because I have only known older (70-80 yr old) women named Iris.

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Molly May 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM

If the baby I’m currently pregnant with is a girl, her name will be Iris. I fell in love with the name while reading Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning novel “The Blind Assassin” — the main character is named Iris Chase. Beautiful name.

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Lemon January 2, 2012 at 2:24 PM

I just stumbled upon this write-up, Abby, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, especially in the comments. To me, Iris fits with all of the perky, peppy, pretty flower names (read – Daisy, Poppy, Lily), but she also has an almost sobering quality to her that lends an ethereal, yet sophisticated edge to the name. She sounds all at once smart and quirky and whimsical and bold, and that’s what I like in a name.

My grandmother Irene recently passed away, and though I am about five years out from having any children (and I’ve already “chosen” Eliza Wren for my imagined first daughter), I’ve struggled with how to appropriately honor Irene, a woman so dear to my heart, in a daughter’s name. Using her own name, though I know she’d be delighted, isn’t right for me. Thus, I’ve landed on Iris, and the fit couldn’t be better. I love the goddess connection, particularly the image of Iris linking the realms of heaven and earth along her rainbow – it’s how I envision my grandma will act on my life now, I suppose. I like that the name has this strong but soothing quality to it, because that is very much my grandma’s spirit.

And so, I feel I have put together the ideal name in Phoebe Iris, my imagined sister for Eliza Wren. If only I could jump six or so years into the future…

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appellationmountain June 14, 2008 at 12:31 AM

Katharine, I do quite like the letter for I for baby names. If I were ranking the 26, I’d have to say I’m partial to H and I … and so over the letter K, it’s krazy. ;)

And Lilybet is darling! Lily as a nickname for Elizabeth is far more appealing than Lilianna, which strikes me as WAY too “flouncy, flimsy, girly and out-growable,” to steal your fabulous turn of phrase, Katharine.

Thanks for the tip on Lilly, Lola. It gives me an idea of where to start looking.

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Katharine June 13, 2008 at 6:07 PM

Im not a huge fan of flower names as a rule, on the whole, they are adorably cute, but seem altogether too flouncy, flimsy, girly and out-growable. However Iris has a more grown up, understated power which makes it one of the strongest floral choices. Also, ‘I’ is quite a classy letter littered with stylish, often slightly left of field monikers (think Imogen, Isobel, Isla, Ines, Iona, India and Ivy). Thinking on it, I do know of one baby Iris, she was named after her grandmother (and for anyone interested, she has siblings called Holly and Ruby)…

Ps. I’m in love with the idea of Lillybet on a child as a nickname for Elizabeth!

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Lola June 13, 2008 at 2:52 PM

EEK.. clicked submit when I was trying to flip windows. Yes, there’s a Madame Eglantine in Canterbury Tales. Not a pleasant woman but still she’s there. The most recent Eglantine in my family tree lived in the 18th century and was the mother of my Great Grandfather.

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Lola June 13, 2008 at 2:45 PM

Forgot.. Yep there’s an

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Lola June 13, 2008 at 2:44 PM

I know Lily is another one of Elizabeth’s many nicknames. Even the Current Queen Elizabeth II was nicknamed Lilybet when she was younger! (Wikipedia has this blurb: On 29 April 1929, the young “P’incess Lilybet” appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, in an article that described her third birthday). My Grandmother Lilian was Lilian Elisabeth and called “double Lil” by her sisters. She called me Lily exclusively until her death. She refused to call me by my name. I should have been named for her, she always insisted. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Lilly might have been used in the 16th century. As a surname Lilly is the oldest of the “Lily” names. But Lilies weren’t widespread until the begininning of the 19th century (i think), so I doubt Lily would be widespread as a name until the beginning of the Victorian era. Maybe in the Orient, where Lilies prliferated first? I have no real clue.

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appellationmountain June 13, 2008 at 10:29 AM

It’s an interesting question. If you love Lily, but hate the idea of your daughter sharing her name with so many other girls, do you move on to another floral name, or quit the garden altogether?

Friends of friends recently named their daughter Azalea in a bid to find a botanical choice that would not be overused. I think they did it. :)

Of course, they could’ve just looked at your family tree, Lola. What a fabulous bunch of names! Isn’t there an Eglantine in the Canterbury Tales? I hadn’t realized there *was* a nature connection until I saw your list! You really turn up the most amazing names!

And thanks for the starbaby catch. I always think of Jude Law and Rafferty, but sure enough, there’s also son Rudy and daughter Iris.

There’s another thing you mention that strikes me as interesting: most floral names are Victorian era innovations. I don’t know if any were used pre-19th century. I assume they were always given as nicknames, but would we have met a Lily in the 1600s? Hmmm … anyone know? If not, I’m putting it on my (impossibly long) list to research.

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Jonquil February 24, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Re flower names before the 19th century: The name Violet (Violette) was introduced into the Scottish Campbell family (Earls of Argyll) from France in the 1500s. A Violet Campbell was christened in Edinburgh in 1673, and there are other early examples of that flower name being used in that family.

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appellationmountain February 24, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Thank you! Great fact …

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Lola June 12, 2008 at 6:09 PM

Iris is lovely, but comes with a touch of celebrity baggage: Jude Law’s daughter is Iris as well as Renee O’Connor’s.

I love her quiet simplicity and have always wondered if the colored part of the eye was named for the flower (or the goddess of the rainbow)

Iris is the most normal of the flower names that proliferate throughout my family tree: Iris, Marigold, Primrose, Peony, Eglantine, Lily (for Lilian, Pansy, Poppy & Celandine are the ones that repeat the most often. I love that I have a veritable florist’s shop to use!

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coolteamblt June 12, 2008 at 3:12 PM

I love it. Kevin has vetoed it because of the eyeball connection, which is a real bummer to me. It’s so cute, and much fresher sounding than Irene. I used to like botanical names, but I am so bored with them now! Iris and Dahlia are basically the only ones I find appealing anymore. Also, I actually met a little girl named Poppy the other day, and it was so cute on her! Now, I’m having a hard time picturing Poppy on an adult, though. Oh well.

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