English: magnolia

This post was originally published on March 18, 2010.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 17, 2014.

She’s a pretty botanical choice with appealing nickname options.

Thanks to Lyndsay for suggesting Magnolia as Name of the Day.

Back in the nineteenth century and right into the 1930s, girls named Magnolia weren’t shocking.  The name regularly appeared in the US Top 1000, which meant that it was given to a few dozen newborns annually.

As so many names do, Magnolia faded – a never-too-popular choice quietly slipping in use.

If there were ever a moment for Magnolia to make a comeback, it is now:

  • Parents are wild about nature names, from the traditional flowers to more adventurous possibilities.  If we’re naming our kids Cedar and Sky, Magnolia is a possibility.
  • That great nickname Maggie has been heard in fashionable circles – Jon Stewart’s daughter is Maggie Rose.
  • Her -ia ending is quite stylish, and Magnolia fits in with Sophia, Olivia, and Amelia.

And wouldn’t you know it?  Magnolia is back.  In 2013, she re-entered the US rankings at #977, at her most popular since 1940.

The name comes from French naturalist Pierre Magnol.  He was a teacher and director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpellier in the early 1700s.  His student, Charles Plumier, named the flowering tree in honor of his professor.  The name stuck, and Carl Linnaeus used it in his definitive guides to plants in the 1730s and 40s.

The surname Magnol has proven elusive, so the only meaning you’re likely to find is from the flower.

Speaking of the flower, they’re widespread, with varieties taking root from Asia to the Americas to the West Indies.

The most famous Magnolia might be Edna Ferber’s Magnolia, called Nolie, a river boat captain’s daughter and performer in her 1926 novel Show Boat.  Ferber’s novel became a Broadway musical the following year.  Today Show Boat might feel like a gentle antique, but in the 1920s, it was groundbreaking.  Showboat featured the first racially integrated cast on Broadway, and it also dealt with much weightier issues than was previously the norm for musicals.

Show Boat takes Magnolia to the American South, as does 1989’s Steel Magnolias.  The movie was all about the lives of a group of delicate-but-strong Southern ladies – including Julia Roberts in her breakout role.

Southern Living calls it “the essential Southern plant.”  Houston, Texas has been called “The Magnolia City” and Mississippi is “The Magnolia State.”  A number of gracious, historic homes bear the name throughout the American South.

In the Victorian language of flowers, magnolias were said to signify dignity, nobility, perseverance – good qualities, all.

Possible nicknames range from friendly Maggie to sassy Nola.  Meg, Nolia, and Nolie are options, too.

I’m curious how she reads in the UK, where Magnolia is a rather ordinary shade of white.

While some floral names read bold – think of Lotus or Azalea – Magnolia is rather lady-like, without sacrificing an air of resilience and capability.

Overall, Magnolia makes for a lovely antique, ready for revival.  She’s graceful and surprising, easy to wear but relatively rare – at least for now.


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. Hello!
    We had a baby Magnolia a couple of months ago and she is just a doll. We dreamed of using this name for years and loved the nickname Nolie. Then a friend had a baby Nolan who they call Noli and so Nolie has lost a little appeal. When I was pregnant we briefly considered naming our girl Maisie but decided it was a bit to child-like for a proper name for our taste. A few close friends suggested using Maisie as a nickname for Magnolia and I was sold! I was so excited to get to use both names that I love! Now that she’s here though… it seems like Maisie is too much of a stretch. I love it so much but I’m also afraid that it loses too much of the beauty of her full name which Nolie keeps. Anyway, I’m wondering if you think Maisie is too much of a stretch for Magnolia?

  2. My 4 yr old is named Magnolia ( dead song, mine and hubby’s 1st apt, and southern , we are from MS). 1ST name I suggested that he actually liked. We were back and forth between calling her Nola or Maggie before she was born but we instantly decided she was definitely more of a Maggie than a Nola when she artived. Still love her name.

  3. Magnolia has really grown on me (no pun intended!). The actress Bianca Kajlich from the TV show “Rules of Engagement” has a daughter named Magnolia Moon who was born in April.

  4. I have a Magnolia Everett! I just dreamt the name, oddly enough if she was a boy I favored Orion, so whoever in the comments above mentioned that sibling set might be my soulmate – how weird. 😉 My Magnolia get called Maggie, Mags and ‘Moo’ (shortened from Maggie Moo). She is just 6.5 months, but already spunky!

  5. I really like the name Nolia for a girl. I thought of it while staying in the Magnolia Hotel one night many years ago. We are expecting a baby in April 2014, and I have always used the name Nolia in my mind for if we had a girl baby, but not sure if I would actually use it for real. Any thoughts?

    1. I think it is a lovely, unusual name with personal meaning – which makes it perfect for your daughter! I wrote about Nolia here: How would you pronounce it? There are a handful of possibilities …

  6. My name is Magnolia, middle name Del and I’m 31 from NSW Australia. I stupidly thought I was the only one! I get called Maggie not many people call me Magnolia and I get mixed reactions, they love it or hate it! I like it and I like being a bit different! Great to hear how interested people are in the name I thought was all mine!

  7. In fact (and sorry to post on two different posts!) I’m finding on many of these older posts I can only see a few paragraphs. Perhaps that’s a result of the new layout?

    1. Thanks Myst, they’re both fixed now. It is related to the move – lots & lots of posts were splinched, but finding them can be challenging. Feel free to leave a comment on any missing post – it is easy for me to fix it once I have it on my radar!

      1. Thank you! I’m having fun reading through old posts, so I’ll be sure to let you know if I come across more 🙂