Magnolia: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on July 17, 2014

English: magnolia

This post was originally published on March 18, 2010.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 17, 2014.

She’s a pretty botanical choice with appealing nickname options.

Thanks to Lyndsay for suggesting Magnolia as Name of the Day.

Back in the nineteenth century and right into the 1930s, girls named Magnolia weren’t shocking.  The name regularly appeared in the US Top 1000, which meant that it was given to a few dozen newborns annually.

As so many names do, Magnolia faded – a never-too-popular choice quietly slipping in use.

If there were ever a moment for Magnolia to make a comeback, it is now:

  • Parents are wild about nature names, from the traditional flowers to more adventurous possibilities.  If we’re naming our kids Cedar and Sky, Magnolia is a possibility.
  • That great nickname Maggie has been heard in fashionable circles – Jon Stewart’s daughter is Maggie Rose.
  • Her -ia ending is quite stylish, and Magnolia fits in with Sophia, Olivia, and Amelia.

And wouldn’t you know it?  Magnolia is back.  In 2013, she re-entered the US rankings at #977, at her most popular since 1940.

The name comes from French naturalist Pierre Magnol.  He was a teacher and director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpellier in the early 1700s.  His student, Charles Plumier, named the flowering tree in honor of his professor.  The name stuck, and Carl Linnaeus used it in his definitive guides to plants in the 1730s and 40s.

The surname Magnol has proven elusive, so the only meaning you’re likely to find is from the flower.

Speaking of the flower, they’re widespread, with varieties taking root from Asia to the Americas to the West Indies.

The most famous Magnolia might be Edna Ferber’s Magnolia, called Nolie, a river boat captain’s daughter and performer in her 1926 novel Show Boat.  Ferber’s novel became a Broadway musical the following year.  Today Show Boat might feel like a gentle antique, but in the 1920s, it was groundbreaking.  Showboat featured the first racially integrated cast on Broadway, and it also dealt with much weightier issues than was previously the norm for musicals.

Show Boat takes Magnolia to the American South, as does 1989’s Steel Magnolias.  The movie was all about the lives of a group of delicate-but-strong Southern ladies – including Julia Roberts in her breakout role.

Southern Living calls it “the essential Southern plant.”  Houston, Texas has been called “The Magnolia City” and Mississippi is “The Magnolia State.”  A number of gracious, historic homes bear the name throughout the American South.

In the Victorian language of flowers, magnolias were said to signify dignity, nobility, perseverance – good qualities, all.

Possible nicknames range from friendly Maggie to sassy Nola.  Meg, Nolia, and Nolie are options, too.

I’m curious how she reads in the UK, where Magnolia is a rather ordinary shade of white.

While some floral names read bold – think of Lotus or Azalea – Magnolia is rather lady-like, without sacrificing an air of resilience and capability.

Overall, Magnolia makes for a lovely antique, ready for revival.  She’s graceful and surprising, easy to wear but relatively rare – at least for now.


{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Virginia July 17, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Magnolia has really grown on me (no pun intended!). The actress Bianca Kajlich from the TV show “Rules of Engagement” has a daughter named Magnolia Moon who was born in April.


appellationmountain July 18, 2014 at 6:11 AM

Really? Wow! That’s a *great* name – thanks, Virginia!


Names4Real July 18, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Magnolia Moon! Love. I missed that announcement. Thanks for sharing!


Kim October 25, 2013 at 4:03 PM

I have a Magnolia Everett! I just dreamt the name, oddly enough if she was a boy I favored Orion, so whoever in the comments above mentioned that sibling set might be my soulmate – how weird. ;) My Magnolia get called Maggie, Mags and ‘Moo’ (shortened from Maggie Moo). She is just 6.5 months, but already spunky!


Naomi October 20, 2013 at 10:28 PM

I really like the name Nolia for a girl. I thought of it while staying in the Magnolia Hotel one night many years ago. We are expecting a baby in April 2014, and I have always used the name Nolia in my mind for if we had a girl baby, but not sure if I would actually use it for real. Any thoughts?


appellationmountain October 21, 2013 at 6:21 AM

I think it is a lovely, unusual name with personal meaning – which makes it perfect for your daughter! I wrote about Nolia here: How would you pronounce it? There are a handful of possibilities …


noralee June 11, 2013 at 12:01 AM

I know the cutest 3 year old named June Magnolia!


Magnolia Del June 27, 2012 at 6:53 AM

My name is Magnolia, middle name Del and I’m 31 from NSW Australia. I stupidly thought I was the only one! I get called Maggie not many people call me Magnolia and I get mixed reactions, they love it or hate it! I like it and I like being a bit different! Great to hear how interested people are in the name I thought was all mine!


Myst June 25, 2012 at 8:43 AM

In fact (and sorry to post on two different posts!) I’m finding on many of these older posts I can only see a few paragraphs. Perhaps that’s a result of the new layout?


appellationmountain June 26, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Thanks Myst, they’re both fixed now. It is related to the move – lots & lots of posts were splinched, but finding them can be challenging. Feel free to leave a comment on any missing post – it is easy for me to fix it once I have it on my radar!


Myst June 26, 2012 at 12:48 PM

Thank you! I’m having fun reading through old posts, so I’ll be sure to let you know if I come across more :)


Michelle June 25, 2012 at 1:14 AM

Magnolia is my daughters middle name:).


Nicole May 6, 2012 at 12:49 PM

This is perfectly put! My daughter is Magnolia Louise, named for my grandmother and great-grandmother. She is 3 and an absolute southern, fiery, and not-afraid-of-anything little lady. We had always planned on calling her Magnolia but knowing she might have many nicknames growing up, but when anyone abbreviates or calls her something other than Magnolia she instantly corrects them by saying, “No, it’s Magnolia.”


Mom to a Magnolia December 22, 2011 at 9:54 PM

I am not sure how I got here but had to comment! My 3 year old is Magnolia. She fits the name so well. She is spunky and beautiful, sensitive and warm. We get compliments on her name wherever we go. As far as nicknames go. She is Maggie, Nola, Nollie-Pollie, and to her baby sister Agga.


countrylizb October 12, 2011 at 4:33 AM

There is a Magnolia in the movie “Show Boat”.


lm August 11, 2011 at 4:46 PM

I love the name Magnolia and plan on using this name for my daughter. I think it is a name that can carry a person from childhood to old age. Thank you all for commenting on it…it has been so interesting to read everyone’s perspectives on the name! Originally, I thought that I would use Maggie as a nickname, but now I am also considering Noli…thanks : )


liz December 21, 2010 at 12:07 PM

I met a sibset, Magnolia and Orion. Seems deadheady but in a nice way. They were about 3 and 1.


appellationmountain December 21, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Magnolia and Orion is, somehow, both totally over the top and undeniably attractive.

Maybe it is because they almost feel like twists on the classic Margaret and the contemporary Ryan. Magnolia and Orion are outside of the mainstream, but not startlingly so.


Magnolia May Polley December 21, 2010 at 3:38 AM

My name is Magnolia. I was Maggie May as a child, which got ridiculed as much as my long name Magnolia May Polley. Thats right, Im Maggie May for short… Ill tell you all something. I love my name every day. It has defined me in ways I cannot express. People remember it. It is not a name for just any girl child…its a name for someone strong, enduring, inspiring…its a poets name…it is not a prissy name…it is a sexy name, its an artists name. It is not a wall-flowers name. It is not the name of a house-wife, it is the name of an adventurer and life explorer…someone who loves nature, who is nature…who is not only enchanted by it, but one who is a very important piece of that enchantment. This is the name of a girl who loves everyone, hugs everyone, and puts her hands and heart out for the healing and survival of those around her, so that everyone has a better life. She is never poor, she has friends in every country and city, and loves all that radiates light and subtle beauty. She is never forgotten. There is a real definition of a real peson. Namaste.


Dlee September 11, 2013 at 2:54 PM

That is beautiful! Thank you- I am no longer on the fence about giving this name to my daughter.


Melissa September 1, 2010 at 12:14 PM

I really like this name even more! Not sure what we are having in April 11′, but if its a girl, I am really leaning towards Magnolia. I like Nolie too for the nickname! Thanks!


Sara March 21, 2010 at 4:09 PM

I recently read a book where the main character was Magnolia, who didn’t go by Maggie.

(Little Pink Slips by Sally Koslow, if you’re interested.)

Love this name! Can’t ever use it, though, as it’s too close to my daughter’s name.


Charlotte Vera March 21, 2010 at 9:12 AM

I lived on the West Coast for a couple of years and grew to love the beautiful magnolia blossoms that would appear every spring. When I was pregnant last year I would go for long walks as the magnolia trees became heavier and heavier with their pink and white petals. But I never once thought about naming my daughter after the plant.

I love the name Margaret — it’s in my top ten (sadly my husband hates it) — but I don’t think I ever really would consider Magnolia. I’m with Urban Angel: I’d like to see it on someone else’s kid.


Sebastiane March 21, 2010 at 9:01 AM

Magnolia is gorgeous, especially with the nicknames Maggie, Nola or Nolie. I am surprised it hasn’t been used more often.


phoebesmom March 20, 2010 at 12:15 PM

No. Just…no. It makes me think of the Tom Cruise movie.


British American March 18, 2010 at 9:35 PM

This is one I’d not thought about before. I do like flower names and I do like the nickname Maggie a lot. I don’t know anything about the plant or the movie, but my first thought is “Steel Magnolias” which doesn’t sound so pretty.

I’d like to meet a little Magnolia.


British American March 29, 2010 at 12:21 PM

Well I just found a 2 year old Magnolia whilst looking at a friend’s Facebook photos. From the photo captions, her nickname is Noli. :)


Magnolia December 21, 2011 at 3:01 AM

My name is Magnolia and my Nickname is NOLY too!
never heard of any other Magnolia being called Noli. I haven’t meet a Magnolia yet actually


Magnolia December 21, 2011 at 3:03 AM

haven’t met a Magnolia yet :)


Jane March 18, 2010 at 4:50 PM

If my husband had been a girl, his mother was set on naming him Magnolia. (This was back in 1979.) I was stunned when she told me – the name didn’t instantly appeal, and I had never heard of anyone named Magnolia before. But it has grown on me and I can see the appeal if you are after a name that has a dignified, reserved, elegant feel (I think it’s like Rose in that respect), but with cute nicknames to boot. (LOVE Meg, Maggie and Nola.) For my mother in law, the appeal came from it being her favourite flower. I like it after some consideration, but I still don’t like it enough to use it. I much prefer the cute/sweet/delicate flower names like Lily and Violet – although, alas, they are far too ubiquitous these days.


appellationmountain March 18, 2010 at 5:33 PM

Fascinating! Does your husband have sisters? I’d love to know their names!


Jane March 18, 2010 at 6:49 PM

No, he doesn’t! He’s an only child. Well, he has half-siblings, but they don’t share the same mother, so their names don’t reflect her tastes. His first name is Taioma (“Ty-oh-ma”), which is a Maori name meaning running with the tide. (He does not have any Maori heritage, but she liked the name.)


Joy March 18, 2010 at 2:42 PM

I’ve loved Maggie ever since Janine Turner starred in Northern Exposure. It’s a wonderful nickname for Magnolia. Nola and Nia are very nice nicknames, too. This name would be lovely for a baby girl born in June, as the Magnolia is in full bloom by mid-June.

I saw a Poinsettia online the other day; I wonder if she was a Christmas baby. If we can have Rose, Daisy, Fern, Lily, Violet, Cherry, Jasmine, et al, then surely there is room for Magnolia.


appellationmountain March 18, 2010 at 5:34 PM

Mia is another great idea, Joy – thanks! And Pointsettia – that’s a little trickier to wear. What do you call her for short? Setta, maybe …

And I love Fern!


Sparkle December 22, 2010 at 11:13 AM

What about Tia? And I love Jasmine!


Whitney Gigandet March 18, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Oh, I love it :) It’s another one of those southern belle names that I have a huge soft spot for. I love how it’s such an elegant, beautiful first name with such spunky and friendly nicknames like Maggie, Nola and Lia.


Lady Gwyn March 18, 2010 at 12:51 PM

I love Magnolia. Magnolias are my favorite flowers, so I have wanted to use this name for a long time. I thinks it’s pretty. I like Maggie as a nickname, but Nola is pretty, too. I would definately use this as first name, and it would make a cute middle name, too.


Julie March 18, 2010 at 12:46 PM

As a name and a flower it’s a bit over the top for me. Plus there’s the pronunciation issue, is it mag-nohl-yuh or mag-noh-lee-uh?

Pretty flower and a pretty name, but not on my child.


appellationmountain March 18, 2010 at 5:35 PM

You’re right, Julie – it’s both. I say it with three syllables, but you’d hear four, too. And with four, it’s just too much name for me – but then again, Isabella isn’t hurt by being four syllables long!


British American March 18, 2010 at 9:33 PM

Ah, I’d only thought of it with four syllables: Mag-noh-lee-ah which is 1 or 2 too many for me usually.


caroline March 18, 2010 at 11:44 AM

I don’t know. It’s just a bit much for me. I’m also tired of Maggie, so that doesn’t help the cause. There are SO MANY Maggies around here!!


JNE March 18, 2010 at 9:52 AM

I’m on the fence about Magnolia. I like it in theory – adore the magnolia tree (planted one in the yard as soon as we moved in), like the southern reference (for a true southerner moreso than for myself, a transplant), and love the nn possibilities with it (I’d add Aggie, Mia, Nia, Lia, and at a stretch Malia)… but the actual sound of Magnolia feels long for a name, somehow. I’m more inclined to use Zinnia or Azalea as an out-there floral, myself. Still, I’d love to meet a Magnolia. It’s hard to believe that there haven’t been many – perhaps I should champion it to my child-bearing friends who are natives down here!


appellationmountain March 18, 2010 at 5:35 PM

JNE, my mother has a colleague with a granddaughter Azalea. It’s really grown on me!


British American March 18, 2010 at 9:31 PM

I know a 4 year old Azaylia.


UrbanAngel March 18, 2010 at 8:48 AM

It’s weird, most nature name I do actually like as they seem fresh and evoke positive connotations. Magnolia always seemed vintage-ish to me. It’s nature vintage lol. (actually West is the same as it peaked in the 1880s) But, I’ve never really gone for it. It’s pretty, but not amazing.

I don’t like -Mag names at all & never have.A possible reason is because of the Afrikaans pronunciation of some.Either way, most -Mag names have always sounded so heavy & non-approachable to me. I do LOVE Nola, though & Meg/Maggie are cute.I wouldn’t ever use Maggie as I’d prefer it as a NN & gave up Megan years ago after I met 3 Megans in one day at a birthday party

The Victorian era connotation of Magnolias is lovely.Overall, it’s nice but not one I’d ever consider or am particularly drawn to.Great on someone else’s kid,though


appellationmountain March 18, 2010 at 5:36 PM

I was really surprised to realize just how much Magnolia had been used here! And yes, Megan is worn out here, too – too bad.


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