Thanks to Clio for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
A GARDEN OF GIRLS
Flower names for girls have always been popular.
As of 2021, the US Top 100 includes Lily, Violet, with names like Poppy and Iris not far behind. Other botanical favorites include Willow, Hazel, and Ivy.
These days, the playground sounds a like a greenhouse.
But Flora is just the tiniest bit different. It’s a pan-botanical, representing all of the flowers, not just one single bloom.
And secondly? Flora is far older.
THE ROMAN GODDESS OF FLOWERS
We know that Victorians love their floral names for girls.
But to find the origin of the name Flora, we have to go back to the ancient world.
Flora ultimately comes from the Latin flos – flower.
Roman mythology makes her the goddess of flowers. She’s a relatively minor figure, and yet, Flora’s ties to springtime, as well as youth, gave her some significance. There were temples dedicated to her worship, as well as the Floralia, a festival held at the beginning of every spring.
It’s also the name of a ninth-century saint.
When Córdoba, Spain was ruled by the Muslim Umayyad dynasty, Christians could be executed for a number of religious crimes. Think blasphemy and apostasy. And so Flora was one of four dozens’ martyrs recorded from the era.
In fourteenth century France, Saint Flora of Beaulieu lived her life in a religious order. She was known for her generosity to the poor, as well as her mystical experiences. She’s also known by the French version of her name – Fleur.
RENAISSANCE and REVOLUTIONARY FLORA
Fleur takes us right up to the Renaissance.
Many artists depicted the Roman goddess in their work. Titian’s might be the most famous; it can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Or maybe that honor goes to Botticelli’s Primavera, in which Flora is one of several figures from mythology, all gathered to welcome spring.
Sculptures can be found throughout Europe, too. Le Réveil de Flore – The Awakening of Flora – was a ballet first performed in Saint Petersburg in 1894.
It’s enough to suggest that Flora remained widely known across the centuries.
Surnames like Fleury and Flory came either from Flora, or from Florian – a separate name with the same roots.
When the French introduced a new calendar, stripped of the old ways, one of the springtime months was called Floréal.
Between the saints and the artwork and such, it’s clear that the baby name Flora remained familiar across the centuries.
FLORA and FAUNA
Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus used flora to describe plant life.
Linnaeus’ master work was called Flora Suecica, and was published in the eighteenth century.
He wasn’t the first, but his work defined modern taxonomy – the way we classify all living things.
In the eighteenth century, Flora MacDonald – Fionnghal in Gaelic – found her way into the history books when she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape.
Charles Edward Stuart was the son of James Stuart. Father and son were known as the Old Pretender and the Young Pretender to the British throne. While they were in the line of succession, the 1701 Act of Settlement excluded Catholics, including both Stuarts. Instead, the throne passed to Hanover-born George I in 1714.
Now the year was 1745. Most of the British army was committed elswehere in Europe. The Young Pretender believed there was support for his father’s return to the throne. The Jacobite Rising began in August of 1745. In April of 1746, they definitely lost to the British government forces at the Battle of Culloden.
Bonnie Prince Charlie went on the run. With the help of Flora MacDonald, he made his way to France. Flora later insisted that her family were pro-British government, but she felt for Charlie’s plight and helped him out of sympathy.
She’s considered a national heroine in Scotland, and a statue commemorating her bravery stands in Inverness today.
NINETEENTH CENTURY FAVORITE
Plenty of notable Floras appear in the following decades.
By 1880, when US popularity data is first collected, Flora had become a Top 100 staple.
Other notables include:
- Early French feminist thinker Flora Tristan, well known in the socialist movement of the 1830s and 1840s.
- In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Flora Murray campaigned for women’s suffrage and eared a medical degree.
- Flora Brewster was also an early female doctor, in this case, a surgeon, practicing in Baltimore, Maryland at the turn of the twentieth century. Her sister, Cora, also became a doctor.
- English painter Flora Twort, active in the early 20th century.
- Flora Robson, a celebrated English actress, was 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!)
Fiction gives us Floras in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Henry James’ spooky The Turn of the Screw, to name just two.
FLORENCE and NORA-CORA-AURORA
The similar sounding – but etymologically unrelated – Florence is enjoying a revival in the English-speaking world right now.
But it’s the runaway popularity of the -ora ending sound that makes Flora feel like an obvious choice for a daughter born today. Nora, Cora, and Aurora all rank in the current US Top 100.
BY the NUMBERS
No question, the baby name Flora is enjoying a revival.
In the year 2000, just 99 girls received the name.
By 2015, that was 176 births.
And in 2019, the name returned to the US Top 1000 at #941.
It’s made significant gains since then, reaching #647 as of 2021.
That’s quite the climb.
But it’s all there, isn’t it?
After all, the baby name Flora combines so many desirable qualities.
It’s straightforward in English, feminine but unfussy, traditional and on-trend.
Flora works across so many European languages and cultures, transforming into Fiorella in Italian or the French Fleur, with rarities like Florette and Florinda waiting in the wings, too.
And while it’s nickname-proof, Florrie and Florry, as well as Florence’s Flossy and Flo, seem like potential short forms.
All of this makes Flora a vintage stunner that’s stiil nicely off-the-radar, at least for now.
What do you think of the baby name Flora?
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 9, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-published on September 23, 2013 and again on August 24, 2022.