English: Japanese cherry trees (Sakura), a gif...That whole tale about a young George Washington and his cherry tree is almost certainly the stuff of myth, but Washington DC is home to some truly amazing cherry blossoms.

They are the inspiration for today’s Baby Name of the Day.  Thanks to UKGirl for suggesting Sakura.

The scientific name for the Japanese cherry is prunus serrulata.  Technically, the cherry blossom is the flower, not the tree itself.  The tree is sometimes called sakura, from the Japanese name.

Back in 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo donated over 3,000 trees to the city of Washington D.C. as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.  The first two trees planted – by First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador – still stand.  We’ve been planting and maintaining the area around the Tidal Basin ever since.

The history is rich, and there are some truly fantastic stories about the trees and the ties that have been maintained over the years.  My favorite is this one: the original trees came from a renowned grove alongside the Arakawa River.  The grove was badly damaged during World War II.  In 1952, the National Park Service sent some of our trees back home, to ensure that both groves could flourish.

They’re not just pretty, ornamental trees, either.  They bloom for such a brief moment that they’ve come to symbolize some weighty concepts – like mortality and transience.

They’re also a national symbol of Japan.  Much like Poppy is associated with Flanders Field and European wars, Japanese soldiers associated cherry blossoms with an ideal of service and sacrifice.  Kamikaze pilots used the symbol during World War II – a dark and haunting association for such a pretty bloom.

There’s a traditional folk song called “Sakura Sakura,” a song about springtime, dating to at least the late nineteenth century.  That’s closer to how most Americans see cherry blossoms today – a symbol of spring.

Pop culture has given us other associations.  Several popular songs bear the title, as do more than a dozen characters from anime and manga, including a girl ninja and an elementary school student with magical powers.

Sakura is a given name in Japan, but how would she wear in the US?

You can hear a native speaker pronounce Sakura here.  The vowel sounds don’t come naturally to an English speaker, and yet it isn’t likely to be mangled, either.

On the plus side, floral names are huge for girls in 2013, and tree names are in favor for both genders.

Importing a name from a culture that isn’t your own can be tricky, and yet Sakura is a graceful possibility.  The trees are closely associated with Washington DC, and several other American cities.  They’re a long-time symbol of springtime and friendship between two nations.  And lastly, they’re tremendously pretty.

More parents are choosing Sakura today than ever before.  While she’s been in sparing use since the 1970s, in 2012, 87 newborn girls were given the name in the US.  Perhaps that’s about the fictional Sakuras, or maybe our passion for undiscovered floral names.

All of it adds up to an unusual name that could wear well in 2013.

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. It’s hard for me to see Sakura as a name people would actually use because I’ve read too many bad fanfictions with Sakura as the name of the protagonist. It’s a pretty name, but it’s been fouled for me.

  2. I ADORE this name! I spent many years living in Japan and would love to give a child a Japanese name wearable in the US. I think Sakura is familiar enough it might do the trick. Plus, it feels just perfect for our up-and-coming April baby!

    Also, FYI, Sakura is an extremely popular name in Japan right now — it has a modern feel with classical Japanese cultural imagery. I bet the slight bump in popularity in the US is related to the larger trend.

    1. Fascinating, Becca – thanks for the info about Japan and popularity.

      And congrats on the April baby!

  3. Sakura is really pretty. Thanks to the Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura is familiar enough for Anglo Americans that it doesn’t feel odd… but since all of my ancestors came from northern Europe, it’s not for me.

  4. It is quite a pretty name, and the trees are gorgeous. There are a lot of them in Seattle as well, where I grew up. There’s a large Asian population there, so I guess that’s why. I feel like the pronunciation would get horribly mangled in the US, but it might be usable.

    My SO really likes this name, and it’s hard to find ones he likes. So there might be hope for it!

  5. I loved the book 1000 paper cranes I think it was called. About the young girl with lukaemia whose name was Sakura.