Primula vulgaris
Image via Wikipedia

She’s a buttoned-up botanical with a pop culture link.

Thanks to Amanda for suggesting Primrose as our Baby Name of the Day.

Rose appears in many compound names, and yet Primrose is a rarity, never in the US Top 1000 and worn by a relatively small number of women compared to Rosalie or Rosanna.

Perhaps Primrose suffers from her proper first syllable.  Prim comes from the French for delicate, ultimately from the Latin primus – first.  There’s a funny little skip there – being first can imply being the best, and so our prissy prim once meant exquisite.

The flower shares the same root, but instead of delicate, the idea is that the primrose was the first rose to bloom.

Several species are known as primrose.  Together, they can be found throughout Europe, and into Africa and Asia.  The evening primrose – which is properly known as oenthera – is native to North and South America.

In the Victorian-era language of flowers, primrose means “I can’t live without you.”

It’s also a surname, derived from the Welsh words pren – tree and rhos – moor, suggesting it began as a place name.

Archibald Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery served as Foreign Secretary under Queen Victoria.  The Earl was quite the popular figure.  He married banking heiress Hannah de Rothschild, the wealthiest woman in Britain.  Hannah died at the age of 39, just before her husband achieved his lifelong goal of being named prime minister.

Victorian-era politics give us a second meaning for the flowers.  They were a particular favorite of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.  Queen Victoria sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral.  The Primrose League adopted the bloom as its symbol, signifying conservative principles, and Primrose Day is April 19, the anniversary of Disraeli’s death.

A 1918 Vitagraph film called Wild Primrose starred Gladys Leslie as Primrose Standish.  I’m not certain of the film’s plot.

Another chance for the name to catch on was a Gershwin musical – Primrose, debuted in London in 1924.  One of the characters is penning a romantic tale of a fictional Primrose.  His story mirrors the misadventures in the play.  Primrose never made it big, in part because the Gershwins’ Lady, Be Good! was on Broadway at the time.

British dramedy The Darling Buds of May ran in the early 90s.  It is best known for launching the career of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played eldest daughter Mariette Louise Larkin.  Her younger siblings included:

  • Montgomery;
  • Primrose;
  • Twins Zinnia and Petunia;
  • Victoria;
  • Oscar.

The characters were based on stories written by H.E. Brooks between 1958 and 1970; more fascinating still, the stories were based on a glimpse of a real family.

But the game-changer comes from current bestselling trilogy The Hunger Games.  Primrose Everdeen is the younger sister of Katniss, the heroine of the series.  Katniss volunteers for the Games to save her sister, though Prim eventually proves herself heroic, too.

Like Prudence or Temperance, there’s a risk to giving your daughter a good girl name.  Perhaps that’s why Primrose has never really taken off, despite her appealing sound and nature name style.  She’s an intriguing option for the middle spot.  The Hunger Games character could help reinvent her.  For now, Primrose remains a true rarity.

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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  1. We named our third daughter Primrose when she was born in 1999 in New Zealand, Her Dad is British, and he and I had lived together in Primrose Hill, London. My birthday is in February, so my birth flower is the primrose – another connection. WIth her being the third girl in the family, we were getting pretty creative with names by that stage! Our other two girls are Tamsin (featured in NOTD on April 7, Primrose’s birthday!), and Imogen. We have used the nickname Rosie for her since she was born, although certain people, notably her grandmother, insist on calling her Primrose. After The Hunger Games was published, our Primrose decided to reinvent herself as Prim over the summer, to see whether she liked it. It never really stuck, although I think it’s possible she may go back to it if she wants a less flowery name than Rosie. I hope The Hunger Games does’t make the name Primrose too popular – we really like that it’s quirky and unusual, yet with a very familiar twist!