Editor’s note: This post was originally published on May 21, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 29, 2013.
She’s a big hit elsewhere in the English-speaking world, but remains a rare bloom in the US.
Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting Poppy as today’s Name of the Day.
Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz, when the Wicked Witch curses the field of flowers? She’s plotting to keep Dorothy and friends from ever reaching Emerald City. Can’t you just hear Margaret Hamilton cackling, “Poppies … poppies will put them to sleep.”
Poppies are the source of opium, a powerful drug used in medicine – and also the source of heroin. They’ve long been associated with rest, peace, and death.
The flower’s name is pretty straightforward. In Latin, it is papaver. In Old English, popæg.
It is tempting to link Poppy to Poppaea, an Ancient Roman name worn by a wife of Nero, among others. But there’s no evidence to link the two. Instead, Poppy seems to be just what she seems – a floral name, inspired by the vibrant flower most often seen in shades of red.
The US celebrates Veterans Day on November 11th, in honor of the day fighting stopped during the first World War. (The treaty wasn’t signed for seven more months.) It’s called Remembrance Day elsewhere in the English-speaking world, and the poppy is the flower associated with commemorating veterans and those who lost their lives in war.
Why this flower? As the war ended, wild poppies grew in the fields where so many lost their lives. Two poems cemented the connection: Canadian John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields and American-born Moina Michael’s We Shall Keep the Faith, a response to McCrae.
A handful of women were given the name in the US in the nineteenth century, and more in the early twentieth century. Some might have worn Poppy as a nickname for a longer, formal name – I’ve come across at least one Greek-born Poppy. Or they may have been influenced by British actress Elsie Mackay, who used Poppy Wyndham as a stage name, beginning in 1919. 1919 is the first year more than five American girls received the name.
But she can stand alone. Notable bearers of the name include:
- Australian actress Poppy Montgomery has sisters called Rosie, Daisy, Lily, and Marigold. Her daughter is Violet.
- Fictional characters abound, including EastEnders minor character Poppy Meadow and Harry Potter’s Poppy Pomfrey.
- Jamie Oliver has a Poppy Honey Rosie, one of four nature-named children. Anthony Edwards, Jessica Capshaw, and Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer all chose the name, too.
She’s a Top 20 choice in England, and almost as popular elsewhere in the UK and Australia. But in the US, she’s never cracked the Top 1000. That could change soon – while just ten girls received the name in 2002, 171 newborn Poppys arrived in 2012, putting her just outside the rankings.
If you’re crushed that Lily is so popular or worried that Azalea is too obscure, Poppy could be just the compromise – a bright, wearable botanical on the upswing, but still very much underused in the US.