She’s a nature name gone Hollywood.
Thanks to Nicole for suggesting Willow as our Baby Name of the Day.
Girls have been named after flowers for generations. In the twentieth century, we’ve broadened our definition of botanicals to include trees and other flora as possible appellations.
In Old English, willow was welig. It evolved to wilghe, then wilwe before reaching its modern form sometime around the 1300s. There’s a theory that the wel- element refers to a curve.
Today, willowy means slender and graceful. It’s a positive association for a daughter’s name. There’s even more symbolism to consider:
- The Jewish feast of Sukkot includes willow branches in several ceremonies, based on a verse in Leviticus;
- Buddhists associate willow branches with compassion;
- Beloved children’s novel The Wind in the Willows lends an innocence to the name;
- 1907 Algernon Blackwood short story The Willows puts an eerie spin on the trees, calling them menacing;
- Japanese and Native American traditional stories also attribute supernatural powers to the willow;
- “Willow Weep for Me” is a 1932 song since recorded by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Diana Krall;
- Willows are sometimes considered a source of wisdom. Hans Christian Anderson wrote an 1853 story where children asked questions of a willow tree. In Disney’s Pocahontas, the heroine did the same, calling the tree Grandmother Willow;
- In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia falls to her death from a willow tree.
Pop culture references have put Willow center stage:
- In the 1988 fantasy film Willow was a dwarf and unlikely hero – and a man. JRR Tolkein had used the name for a minor male character, too;
- The grounds of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts include a tree called the Whomping Willow, which features in many a plot line.
The real fuel behind this nature name’s rise comes to us from the small screen: Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted in 1997. Buffy’s BFF answered to Willow. In 1998, Willow entered the US Top 1000 at #851.
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith welcomed a daughter in 2000. Just like big brother Jaden was named after mom, the new baby girl was named after dad: Willow Camille Reign. As if being Hollywood royalty isn’t enough, the pint-sized fashionista has launched a career of her own, making her film debut in 2007.
- Sarah Palin’s daughter Willow, born in 1994, pre-Buffy;
- Model-turned-CNN correspondent Willow Bay also predates the TV show – but she was born Kristine;
- Catherine Willows is a crime scene investigator on the original CSI. Marg Helgenberger has been nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes for her work.
All of this has propelled Willow to #315 in 2009, and she shows no signs of slowing. With William back at #5 for boys, feminine choices like Willa and Wilhelmina are getting more attention. And since William has never left the US Top 20, well, there are a lot of grandpa Bills out there to honor.
Willow might not be as classic as Lily or Rose, but she strikes me as one that’s here to stay – more akin to Brooke than Skye.