It’s a garden of girls out there. Lily ranks in the Top 20, with Jasmine and Violet not far behind. Toss in variant spellings and elaborations, plus other botanical possibilities like Hazel and Ivy, Poppy and Willow, and it’s easy to wonder if you’re at the playground or the greenhouse.
With flowers names in full bloom, why is this pan-botanical so neglected? Our Baby Name of the Day is Flora.
Flora was a nineteenth century favorite, ranking in the US Top 100 in the 1880s and 1890s. Despite our affection for vintage gems, she hasn’t made much of a comeback in recent years. 124 girls received the name in 2012. That’s up a smidge from the 1980s and 90s, but compared to the similar-sounding, equally antique Cora and Nora, Flora is languishing.
She’s the goddess of flowers in Roman mythology – a relatively minor figure associated with spring.
Her heyday was the Renaissance, when artists like Titian, Rembrandt, and Boticelli embraced the goddess and depicted her in their works.
It was Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus who first used flora to describe plant life. Out of the pantheon and portrait, into the realm of science. Linnaeus’ master work was called Flora Suecica, and was published in the eighteenth century.
Flora ultimately comes from the Latin flos – flower.
As a given name, Flora has a long history of use:
- In the ninth century, one of the martyrs of Cordoba answered to the name.
- A fourteenth century French saint was called Flora. A fascinating bit of trivia: she’s the patron saint of victims of betrayal.
- In the 1700s, Flora McDonald helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape capture. A statue commemorating her bravery stands in Inverness, Scotland today.
- Early French feminist thinker Flora Tristan was well known in the socialist movement of the 1830s and 1840s.
- English painter Flora Twort was active in the early 20th century.
- Flora Robson was a celebrated English actress, best known for her work in the theater, but with many a film credit over five decades. (If you’ve seen the original Clash of the Titans, then you’ve seen her in one of her final roles – she’s one of the three witches!)
She’s also used in Poland, Sweden, and Belgium. Fiction gives us Floras in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Henry James’ spooky The Turn of the Screw.
The similar sounding – but etymologically unrelated – Florence is having a revival in the UK. In the 1880s and 90s, Florence was a Top Ten pick in the US, but today she’s the sassy housekeeper on The Jeffersons – and probably not quite ready for revival. The again, my first thought isn’t the sitcom. It’s Florence and the Machine – a whole other, far cooler vibe.
Harry Potter heroine Fleur brought the French version of the name to many parents’ attention. I’d love to hear Fleur, and yet I wonder if it would be a pronunciation headache.
Flora carries no such baggage. She’s easily spelled and pronounced. And yet she’s incredibly rare. The odds of your child sharing her name are minimal – just 124 girls received the name in 2012. (There were also 92 baby Florences and eleven Fleurs – you’re much more likely to meet a Lily!)
Overall, I think Flora deserves a second look. Her -ora sound is on the rise, and a two-syllable, ends-with-a girls’ name is almost always a winning choice.