Iris: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on February 18, 2013


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

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