Lilacs at the 2007 Lilac Celebration at the RBC
Image via Wikipedia

Lily and Violet are in full bloom. How would this botanical choice wear?

Thanks to Racheli for suggesting Lilac as our Baby Name of the Day.

The word lilac has been used for the plant since the seventeenth century, and even longer in French and Spanish. It came to us from the Perisan lilak – originally nilak – via Spain. Nil means indigo or dark blue.

I hear you saying: “Wait! Lilacs aren’t blue. They’re purple!” Perhaps this would be a good moment for a peek at the many varieties of lilac. They do come in a pale purple shade, but they’re also white, yellow, pink, even burgundy. Still, we’ve been using lilac to refer to a specific color for over two hundred years, so the confusion is warranted.

The color puts this name possibility in the same category as stylish Scarlett and Ruby, as well as more daring picks like Indigo, Saffron, and Lavender.

While she’s never cracked the US Top 1000, she has some history of use. A dozen girls received the name in 2010, and Elea has noted that Lilac appears in Edwardian England, along with other unexpected botanicals like Daffodil and Orchid.

Today, Lilac sounds like a name. Much like Marigold and Magnolia strike us as similar to the enduring Margaret, Lilac sounds like some of the most fashionable choices of the day:

  • Lily (#17 in 2010), plus Lillian (#21) and Lilly (#107), as well as many other variants;
  • Lyla (#134), Lila (#155) and Lilah (#331);
  • Delilah (#187).

Lilac has also been used over the years for a train line in Japan and a nineteenth century US Navy tugboat. There’s the Thai Lilac cat and a bird known as the Lilac-breasted Roller.

I thought I’d spotted a celebrity Lilac, the daughter of model Kirsty Hume and model/actor/rocker Donovan Leitch, the son of 60s icon Donovan. In several places, their daughter is called Lilac Jean, including fairly recent photos. But in Hume’s most recent publicity, their daughter is definitely named Violet. What gives? Did the couple realize that Lilac Leitch was not the best first-last pairing? It may be that Lilac was an affectionate nickname.

We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that, say, Violet and Seraphina’s little sis was called Lilac. It sounds celeb-ready.

A few other associations for the plant:

  • In the Victorian language of flowers, lilac symbolizes beauty and pride, or the first emotions of love;
  • “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” is a poem by Walt Whitman, an elegy for the late President Abraham Lincoln;
  • Lilacs bloom in the spring, and are associated with Easter.

If you’re looking for something modern and tailored but still romantic and feminine, Lilac is a safe bet. She’s easy to spell and pronounce, plus relatively few words sound like Lilac. I suppose your daughter might be confused with all those little Lilys – but betcha she stands out amongst the garden of girls instead.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I thought there was a celeb Lilac kid too, a guy from a show I don’t watch…. the one who is married to the actress who played the little girl in the Piano.

  2. It’s kinda wild but I love it! I don’t know why it seems wilder than other flower-girl names, I guess because it doesn’t have a typically girlish ending sound/spelling, like Violet, Rose, or Lily.

  3. Purple is my favorite color, and as such I love all the “purple” names, like Violet, Lavender and yes, Lilac. I did think of using those as middles if I ever had all girl twins or triplets, but that is of course a long shot. It would be a nice way to link them together without using matching or rhyming names.

  4. Lilac is my state flower, and a town near me is nicknamed the lilac city. I love the flower, but I’d be more inclined to go with Rose or Lily or Violet.

  5. I love the look of Lilac and its connotations but the “ack” ending is just too awkward and forced for me.

  6. I love love love the flower/color/name Lilac but when I imagine it being used on my own little girl I realized it’d probably get shortened as a quick nickname to “Li” which is not so appealing. Unlike Violet which has “Vi” and Lilly which has “Lil” – “Li” just sounds like “lie” or “lye” so I don’t think I’d be able to use it myself. I suppose “Lila” would be another nickname option but then I’d be more inclined to just name her Lila/Lilah from the start.

  7. I’m horribly allergic to the flowers, so this one wouldn’t work for me. I’m delighted that they don’t really grow well in the DC area.