Magnolia: Baby Name of the Day

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.



  1. Virginia says

    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.

  2. says

    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!

  3. Naomi says

    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 says

      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 …

  4. Magnolia Del says

    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!

  5. Myst says

    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 says

      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 says

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

  6. Nicole says

    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.”

  7. Mom to a Magnolia says

    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.

  8. lm says

    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 : )

    • appellationmountain says

      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.

  9. Magnolia May Polley says

    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.

  10. Melissa says

    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!

  11. says

    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.

  12. says

    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.

  13. Sebastiane says

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

  14. British American says

    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.

  15. Jane says

    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.

      • Jane says

        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.)

  16. Joy says

    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.

  17. Whitney Gigandet says

    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.

  18. Lady Gwyn says

    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.

  19. Julie says

    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 says

      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 says

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

  20. caroline says

    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!!

  21. JNE says

    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!

  22. UrbanAngel says

    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 says

      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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