She’s a botanical choice with a literary edge.
Thanks to Laura for suggesting Bryony as Name of the Day.
Bryony and equally valid variant Briony have never cracked the Top 1000 in the US. It’s something of a surprise. Besides the current craze for floral names from Lily to Violet, Bryony’s bri- fits in with many of the more popular choices for girls:
- There’s literary Briana at #145 in 2008. She’s topped by alt spelling Brianna at #23. Breanna is also common, at #168. All three probably owe less to Edmund Spenser and more to the many boys christened Brian in the 1970s;
- Brielle ranked #338, while Gabriella, Gabrielle and company are among the most popular choices for girls;
- Other names sharing something of Bryony’s sound include Sabrina, Briley and Aubrey.
Maybe it is because there’s no Bryony in your local flowershop or backyard garden. The flowering vine is native to Europe, though it is now found elsewhere, too. The Royal Navy has named two ships after the plant. The name comes from the Greek bryo – to grow – via the Latin bryonia. (Bryonia is the official name of the plant genus, too.)
Should you meet a Bryony, odds are strong that’s she British. Some sources insist that she’s been in use since the 1700s. I expected to find her amongst lesser-used nineteenth century names. And maybe she was. But you were far more likely to meet a Myrtle, and bryony is rarely mentioned, even in lists of flowers compiled by those botanically-minded Victorians.
Perhaps that’s because bryony is poisonous, and has also been referred to as mandrake or the devil’s turnip. The best-known Briony is probably Ian McEwan’s character from Atonement. It is a fitting choice – her actions poison the lives of many.
Atonment was published in 2001 and adapted for the silver screen in 2006, but set in 1935 England. Without giving away too much of the plot, Briony Tallis is thirteen when she misinterprets something that she sees, and sends the wrong man to prison. A disastrous chain of events follows.
It was a reasonable choice for a twentieth century character. Both spellings of the name have been in sparing use, and you can find athletes, actresses and politicians answering to the name. But the fictional character remains the most noteworthy, joined by figures like the bronze medalist in windsurfing at the Beijing games and a minor EastEnders character.
Overall, she’s an attractive option. Bryony isn’t as out there as Azalaea or Chrysanthemum. Like the Welsh Briallen, she makes for a fresher bri- name than any of the Brianna/Brielle/Briley options.
Bryony is that rare choice that splits the difference between nouveau names like Makaylyn and vintage choices like Hazel. She makes for a great compromise name, and is a subtle way to honor a father or friend named Brian, too.