It’s another botanical option from the ever-expanding list of Nature Names parents are considering for their children.
Thanks to Elizabeth for suggesting one she’s considering for her baby on the way. Our Baby Name of the Day is Azalea.
Virtually every bloom offers some possibility for a child’s name, but it helps that Azalea sounds an awful lot like Top 100 picks Amelia or Natalia – three syllables, elaborate, but not overly frilly. Depending on where you live, you might opt for the four-syllable pronunciation ah ZAY lee ah, which puts her in equally good company – think of the oh-so popular Olivia.
She’s a relatively modern option, chosen by Carl Linnaeus in the mid-eighteenth century to describe the plant. He took the name from the Greek azaleos – dry, because the lovely azalea does well in sandy soil. The Azalea Society of America describes them as “forgiving as easy to grow.” The plants can be found in Asia, Europe, and North America – so can festivals and local celebrations held in the spring when azaleas bloom.
My favorite is Mobile, Alabama’s Azalea Trail. Fifty local high school seniors don antebellum dress to welcome visitors to the section of the city known for its blooms. Never mind that the custom of planting azaleas dates only to 1929. Their dresses – hoops, pantaloons, and parasols required – are fascinating. You can also sight-see the azaleas in other US states, or head to Asia. I’m fascinated by Tatebayashi, a small town an hour from Tokyo by train, famous for its Azalea Hill Park. The US National Arboretum boasts a particularly impressive collection of hybrids, known for their vivid colors.
As a given name, Azalea has never charted in the US Top 1000. But she’s out there. I stumbled across an Azalia, the daughter of a railroad president in the nineteenth century. Dad named a tiny station stop in Michigan in her honor.
Azélie is a French variant, and takes the name in a whole other direction. Marie-Azélie Guérin was the mother of nine daughters in nineteenth century France. Five survived to adulthood; all five became nuns. The youngest, Marie-Françoise-Thérèse, is better known as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.” Her memoir, The Story of a Soul, was published posthumously, and remains influential today.
The French version also gives us a possible short form for Azalea: Zelie. In the eighteenth century, a German immigrant to the US named a tiny Pennsylvania town after his daughter, Zelie. Around the same time that the future Saint Therese was exploring spiritual unknowns, Brooklyn-born French-American singer Zelie de Lussan was touring Europe as an opera singer of some renown.
It may be that Zelie is a short form for other names, too. She seems to gaining just a shimmer of attention. I found this birth announcement for a little girl named Zélie Queen, a little sister for Lucy, Otto, and Clementine.
But back to Azalea – she strikes me as unusual and a little bit showy, but still completely wearable. Louis Armstrong recorded a piece called “Azalea,” a lovely little piece about the flowers. There’s a vague spiritual tie available if you need one, but mostly this is an attractive nature name that will make your daughter stand out in a garden of girls called Lily and Violet.