baby name IrisThe baby name Iris traveled from ancient myth to the garden by way of a rainbow.

Our Baby Name of the Day was inspired by this list.


Long before the baby name Iris bloomed among the garden of botanical girl names, it belonged to a goddess.

Iris means rainbow in Greek, and in ancient myth, the name belonged to a messenger. She traveled via rainbow, bridges that connected the otherworldly realms to the land of mere mortals. Homer and Euripides mention her, and artists depict Iris as a young woman with wings.

In Spanish, arco iris means rainbow today. And the English word iridescence – familiar to any child who has ever marveled at the shiny surface of a soap bubble – comes from the same root.

And yet, a rainbow isn’t necessarily the first image that comes to mind.


For many, the baby name Iris brings to mind a blue-violet flower.

Vincent van Gogh painted the world-famous Irises in 1889. (Though actually, he painted several works featuring the flowers late in his life.)

While the flowers come in many colors, the blue-violet hue is cemented in our minds – at least in part thanks to the artist. We’ve only used it as a color name since the 1910s.

In fact, it’s possible that the flower is called an iris because it comes in so many shades of the rainbow.

You might also think of our eyes. The iris refers to the colored part, which again, varies from person to person. Still, the association with our eyes somehow makes the baby name Iris a little more than a simple nature name.


For years, the baby name Iris felt steady. It has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since the list began in 1880. But most of the time, it fell somewhere in the 200s, 300s, or even 400s. We all recognized Iris as a given name, but we weren’t using it – not really.

But lately, that’s all changed. As of 2019, the name reached #129 – a new high.

With names like Isabella and Isla, Lily and Violet in the US Top 100, perhaps the baby name Iris is poised to join them?


One more factor explains the rise of Iris.

In 1998, Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan starred in a romance with a supernatural side. It’s called City of Angels, and it was a modest success.

But the title song? The Goo Goo Dolls recorded “Iris” for the movie. But Meg Ryan’s character wasn’t Iris; her name was Maggie. Goo Goo Dolls lead singer Johnny Rzeznik borrowed the name from country singer Iris DeMent, after seeing her name in a magazine.

It’s completely random.

But the numbers suggest that the song – which has remained in rotation ever since the movie’s release – inspired parents. In 1997, the baby name Iris ranked #506. It’s climbed steadily nearly every year since.


For every Daisy, there’s an Iris.

Both are florals, and undeniably pretty. But while Daisy seems fresh and innocent, Iris conveys strength and intelligence.

Maybe it’s the more tailored sound of Iris.

Or maybe it’s due to figures like writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. (Kate Winslet played her in a 2001 biopic.)

And perhaps the soaring lyrics to the hit song layers on some depth. Maybe.

Overall, the baby name Iris balances so many qualities – it’s vintage, but modern. Familiar, but not too common. All of the associations feel pleasing and positive. And it’s the kind of name that feels just right for a daughter, but every bit as appropriate for a woman of accomplishment.

Would you consider the baby name Iris for a daughter?

First published on June 12, 2008, this post was substantially revised and re-posted on February 18, 2013 and again on December 10, 2020.

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. If the baby I’m currently pregnant with is a girl, her name will be Iris. I fell in love with the name while reading Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning novel “The Blind Assassin” — the main character is named Iris Chase. Beautiful name.

  2. I just stumbled upon this write-up, Abby, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, especially in the comments. To me, Iris fits with all of the perky, peppy, pretty flower names (read – Daisy, Poppy, Lily), but she also has an almost sobering quality to her that lends an ethereal, yet sophisticated edge to the name. She sounds all at once smart and quirky and whimsical and bold, and that’s what I like in a name.

    My grandmother Irene recently passed away, and though I am about five years out from having any children (and I’ve already “chosen” Eliza Wren for my imagined first daughter), I’ve struggled with how to appropriately honor Irene, a woman so dear to my heart, in a daughter’s name. Using her own name, though I know she’d be delighted, isn’t right for me. Thus, I’ve landed on Iris, and the fit couldn’t be better. I love the goddess connection, particularly the image of Iris linking the realms of heaven and earth along her rainbow – it’s how I envision my grandma will act on my life now, I suppose. I like that the name has this strong but soothing quality to it, because that is very much my grandma’s spirit.

    And so, I feel I have put together the ideal name in Phoebe Iris, my imagined sister for Eliza Wren. If only I could jump six or so years into the future…

  3. Katharine, I do quite like the letter for I for baby names. If I were ranking the 26, I’d have to say I’m partial to H and I … and so over the letter K, it’s krazy. 😉

    And Lilybet is darling! Lily as a nickname for Elizabeth is far more appealing than Lilianna, which strikes me as WAY too “flouncy, flimsy, girly and out-growable,” to steal your fabulous turn of phrase, Katharine.

    Thanks for the tip on Lilly, Lola. It gives me an idea of where to start looking.

  4. Im not a huge fan of flower names as a rule, on the whole, they are adorably cute, but seem altogether too flouncy, flimsy, girly and out-growable. However Iris has a more grown up, understated power which makes it one of the strongest floral choices. Also, ‘I’ is quite a classy letter littered with stylish, often slightly left of field monikers (think Imogen, Isobel, Isla, Ines, Iona, India and Ivy). Thinking on it, I do know of one baby Iris, she was named after her grandmother (and for anyone interested, she has siblings called Holly and Ruby)…

    Ps. I’m in love with the idea of Lillybet on a child as a nickname for Elizabeth!

  5. EEK.. clicked submit when I was trying to flip windows. Yes, there’s a Madame Eglantine in Canterbury Tales. Not a pleasant woman but still she’s there. The most recent Eglantine in my family tree lived in the 18th century and was the mother of my Great Grandfather.

  6. I know Lily is another one of Elizabeth’s many nicknames. Even the Current Queen Elizabeth II was nicknamed Lilybet when she was younger! (Wikipedia has this blurb: On 29 April 1929, the young “P’incess Lilybet” appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, in an article that described her third birthday). My Grandmother Lilian was Lilian Elisabeth and called “double Lil” by her sisters. She called me Lily exclusively until her death. She refused to call me by my name. I should have been named for her, she always insisted. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Lilly might have been used in the 16th century. As a surname Lilly is the oldest of the “Lily” names. But Lilies weren’t widespread until the begininning of the 19th century (i think), so I doubt Lily would be widespread as a name until the beginning of the Victorian era. Maybe in the Orient, where Lilies prliferated first? I have no real clue.

  7. It’s an interesting question. If you love Lily, but hate the idea of your daughter sharing her name with so many other girls, do you move on to another floral name, or quit the garden altogether?

    Friends of friends recently named their daughter Azalea in a bid to find a botanical choice that would not be overused. I think they did it. 🙂

    Of course, they could’ve just looked at your family tree, Lola. What a fabulous bunch of names! Isn’t there an Eglantine in the Canterbury Tales? I hadn’t realized there *was* a nature connection until I saw your list! You really turn up the most amazing names!

    And thanks for the starbaby catch. I always think of Jude Law and Rafferty, but sure enough, there’s also son Rudy and daughter Iris.

    There’s another thing you mention that strikes me as interesting: most floral names are Victorian era innovations. I don’t know if any were used pre-19th century. I assume they were always given as nicknames, but would we have met a Lily in the 1600s? Hmmm … anyone know? If not, I’m putting it on my (impossibly long) list to research.

    1. Re flower names before the 19th century: The name Violet (Violette) was introduced into the Scottish Campbell family (Earls of Argyll) from France in the 1500s. A Violet Campbell was christened in Edinburgh in 1673, and there are other early examples of that flower name being used in that family.

  8. Iris is lovely, but comes with a touch of celebrity baggage: Jude Law’s daughter is Iris as well as Renee O’Connor’s.

    I love her quiet simplicity and have always wondered if the colored part of the eye was named for the flower (or the goddess of the rainbow)

    Iris is the most normal of the flower names that proliferate throughout my family tree: Iris, Marigold, Primrose, Peony, Eglantine, Lily (for Lilian, Pansy, Poppy & Celandine are the ones that repeat the most often. I love that I have a veritable florist’s shop to use!

  9. I love it. Kevin has vetoed it because of the eyeball connection, which is a real bummer to me. It’s so cute, and much fresher sounding than Irene. I used to like botanical names, but I am so bored with them now! Iris and Dahlia are basically the only ones I find appealing anymore. Also, I actually met a little girl named Poppy the other day, and it was so cute on her! Now, I’m having a hard time picturing Poppy on an adult, though. Oh well.