Photo credit: bpmm

She’s an obscure botanical name with ties to Chaucer, witches, social reformers, and The Guardians of Ga’Hoole.

Thanks to Madelyn for suggesting Eglantine as our Baby Name of the Day.

She was a bloom before she was a given name.

Sweet briar is also known as eglantine or eglantine rose.  In Latin, acus means needle.  It’s the source of aculentus, the Vulgar Latin name for the flower.  It became aiglent and aiglantin in Old French, and eventually eglentyn in Middle English, then eglantine, eglantyne, or eglentyne, along with several other spellings.

Geoffrey Chaucer used it for a prioress in his Canterbury Tales.

“The Prioress’s Tale” isn’t a happy one.  And the prioress, with her lap dogs and fancy accessories, isn’t much of a role model.  Her story would have been familiar to a medieval audience – that of a child martyr, a Christian killed by Jews.  It was deeply anti-Semitic, but it all too ordinary in its time.

Where did Chaucer find the name?  The Chaucer Name Dictionary gives two sources of inspiration: first, a nun known as Madame Argentyn lived in a convent close to Chaucer’s home.  Second, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, an Anglo-Norman travel journal written in the 1300s, detailed the types of thorns used in the crown of thorns worn by Jesus.  Eglantine was among them.

If Eglantine entered common use, the records are too spotty to tell us.  Instead, the name is best known for its fictional bearers:

  • A young Angela Landsbury starred in the 1971 Walt Disney musical Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  The film was inspired by Mary Norton’s stories from the 1940s, when scores of women and children left cities for rural areas during the London bombings, and children often went unaccompanied by an adult to live with strangers.  It’s a grim set-up for a fanciful tale.  Charlie, Carrie, and Paul arrive in a tiny village where Miss Eglantine Price is to (reluctantly) take in the siblings for the duration of the war.  It turns out that Miss Price is an apprentice witch, hoping to use her skills to support the war effort.  Adventures follow.
  • Pippin’s mom in The Hobbit is called Eglantine.
  • The first time I noticed the name was in Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a series by Kathryn Lasky.  Lasky’s books begin with barn owl Soren, his brother Kludd, and baby sister Eglantine.  Soren calls his little sis Egg.  Soren and Eglantine are heroic, while Kludd proves to be a villain.  A movie adaptation of the early stories was released in 2010 as Legends of the GuardiansThe Owls of Ga’Hoole.

All of these fictional uses mean that plenty of children have stumbled across Eglantine.  And yet she’s never really caught on, so rare that she’s not even a blip in US records.  She’s better known in France, but still uncommon.

I did find a mother/daughter pair of reformers from nineteenth century England, Eglantyne Jebb and Eglantyne Louisa Jebb.

All of this makes Eglantine a fascinating choice.  She’s clunky, but vaguely French.  She’s rare, but not completely unknown.  Egg is a non-starter of a nickname, but Ellie or Ettie would work.  If you’re after the rarest of the rare names, Eglantine might be one to consider.


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. Recently purchased six new chicks for my lonely, only, little red broody hen, Lady Brandywine to raise. I purchased two each of three different breeds and I want to have similar names for each pair, as I will probably confuse one hen of a breed with her sister of the same breed. Anyway, I was thinking of Clementine & Eglantine, or Clem & “What are the nicknames for Eglantine?” “other then Egg.” Which is how I ended up here, though I’ve been here before. *:) I can’t just call one Egg as it might insult the others since they are all egglayers. LOL I thought of Glenn, yet not girly enough for me. I can’t believe I didn’t think of the nicknames I like which are Ellie & Ettie as well as Nellie, Nettie & Nina. I think I will go with Clem & Nina or maybe NiNi pronounced Neenee. The two chicks with these names will grow up to be white with a lacy black pattern around their necks and tail feathers. My chicks that will grow up to be red hens will be Poppy & Coral and the two little black chicks will be Noire (Noir or maybe Noi-ray) & her sister perhaps Cosima (Cossie) or Cossette. Though part of me is thinking Noire & Star or Noire & Stella, not sure. Question what is the correct term for someone who loves names? Name-ophile? My favorite thing to do as a child was to read through the baby book of names my mother had on her book shelf. Still love the sound of and meaning of names. My three grown children all have popular common names. I can’t wait to see what names they bestow upon their own children. *:)

  2. I just read a book where the female character preferred to be called Egg, but she was a depressed loner, so the nickname seems really sad. Interesting name, but Eglantine isn’t for me.

  3. There is also Egglantine, cousin to Arrietty in “The Borrowers”. That was my first association with it.

  4. I’ve been trying to come up with a comprehensive list of names and so I thumbed through a book with flowers in it, writing down those I thought might do fine as a name (or if I’ve heard them used as a name). Eglantine was one I wrote down, thinking that probably it had never been used. I guess I was wrong. ALMOST no one has used it!

    I like it, not as much as other names, but I think it’s sweet. I was saying it ‘egg lan teen’ but it sounds like maybe in England at least it is ‘egg lan tyne’. The 2nd pronunciation is fine, but I like the ‘een’ ending better. I also do like Egg as a nickname.

  5. I have a French friend named Eglantine who shortens it to Nine (pronounced Neen), which I think is a beautiful nickname!

  6. Used in medieval art to represent the Virgin Mary and a favorite of Elizabeth I, Eglantine has been on my list for years. My fascination with Eglantine definitely started with Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which I frequently watched as a child.

    I now wonder how many people would pronounce it with a long ‘i’ as in the movie, or Egg-lan-teen, the French pronunciation. I’m partial to the movie pronunciation, since there is a long song and dance number where Emelius (another great name!) sings “Eglantine, Eglantine! Oh how you’ll shine!”

    I agree that Ellie and Ettie could work as nicknames. Elea of britishbabynames said the only diminutive she came across in historical records is Glanny but also suggested Aggie, Annie, Ella, Ellie, Ettie, Lettie, and Tina.

    Thank you for this post!

  7. I have a French friend named Eglantine who shortens it to Nine (pronounced Neen). I think that’s a lovely option!