Nature names aren’t new, but there’s something fresh and unexpected about tree names.
From redwoods and weeping willows to cherry blossoms and regular ol’ oaks, trees command respect. They’re enduring, symbolic, undeniably attractive. Poet Joyce Kilmer wrote I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree … and it is easy to understand what he meant. Little of human creation rivals the natural world.
Today is Arbor Day 2014, and if you’re not a naturalist, odds are you’ll see plenty of tree-related chatter in the news.
So let’s take a look at some of the many tree names we’ve covered here at Appellation Mountain over the years – from the stylish and well-known, to the surprising, but still wearable.
Tree Names in the Top 1000
Aspen – Aspen makes me think skiing, not trees. But of course, it was an abundance of aspen trees that gave the Colorado town its name. Tailored, outdoorsy Aspen fits right in with our interest in nature names nowadays, a frills-free choice that’s been gaining for girls since the 1990s.
Hazel – A Top 100 staples from the 1890s into the 1930s, Hazel made her comeback right on time. Julia Roberts welcomed daughter Hazel in 2004, and John Kraskinski and Emily Blunt chose the name in early 2014.
Holly – Holly’s heyday was in the 1970s and 80s. Farther back, Holly saw occasional use for boys. Today she feels like a reasonable choice for a daughter, one born around the winter holidays, maybe, or just for parents channeling the glamour of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Rowan – I first heard Rowan used as a given name in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. Rice’s Rowan was a woman, but this name has become nicely gender neutral – slightly more popular for boys, but common enough for girls, too.
Laurel – The first tree name I loved, and the first time I realized the appeal of tweaking names – from the classic Laura to the once wildly stylish Lauren to the unexpected nature name possibility with the -el ending. Laurel wreaths were given out as awards in the ancient world, lending Laurel a certain boldness.
Juniper – Is Juniper a tree or a bush? Yes. Some are tall trees, while others are rather shrubby. Juniper is Jennifer’s daughter, boosted by our affection for oo names – June and Juno are also quite stylish.
Olive – Olive makes me think of Apple and Clementine, but of course olives grow on trees, in the Mediterranean and surrounding areas. Like Hazel, she’s been boosted by some high profile birth announcements – Isla Fischer and Sacha Barron Cohen have an Olive. So does Drew Barrymore.
Willow – A television witch and a Pinkett-Smith put this tree name on the map. She ranked #171 in 2012, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Up and Coming Tree Names
Alder – With -r ending names for boys on the rise, no surprise that Alder is seeing some use. He’s fresher than antique Alfred, more clearly masculine than Rowan. Another similar pick? Adler, but that takes us from trees to eagles.
Ash – I immediately think of Pokemon protagonist Ash Ketchum when I hear this name. But that’s not a bad association. If Trace works for boys in 2014, why not Ash? More clearly masculine than Ashley and a nature name, too.
Cedar – A tree name that feels familiar and unexpected at once, Cedar is gaining for boys and girls – but as of the 2012 data, has a slight edge for our sons.
Elowen – This Cornish word name is only worn by handful of girls in the US. But she shares sounds with Eloise and Elodie, and her tailored -en ending has appeal, too. With possible short form Ellie, it is easy to imagine this tree name wearing well on a girl anywhere in the English-speaking world.
Koa – The downside is that plenty of people will imagine you got creative with the ever-so-popular Noah and the kreative letter K. The upside? You’ll get to tell them that the Koa is a tree found in Hawaii. And the meaning – given as strong, brave, and warrior – doesn’t hurt.
Linden – Spell it Lyndon, and this becomes a presidential pick, as in LBJ. But Linden is a tree, and it works for both genders. For girls, it is a successor to Linda, the equivalent of Laura–Lauren. For boys, it is yet another ends-with-n possibility – but one that’s far less common than many.
Maple – When Jason Bateman and Amanda Anka gave this name to Francesca’s little sister, I’ll admit I was surprised. I misheard it as Mabel at first. But Maple works – it’s a nice nod to Canadian heritage for the Anka-Bateman family. And it is the kind of word that feels like a name.
Oak – Oakley is probably more wearable, but if Ash makes the list, why not mighty Oak?
Rare Tree Names to Consider
Elm – This would probably never be on my radar, except that Swistle helped a couple with a daughter named Elm Elizabeth. They had a great story for their very unusual choice – it’s never been given to even five girls in one year – and suddenly, I found myself thinking of Elm as every bit as legit as Rowan or Willow.
Hawthorn – Hawberry and whitethorn are non-starters, but how ’bout Hawthorn? Maybe not as a first name, but he makes an intriguing middle. He’s a nature name, thanks to the tree, but also a literary one, thanks to the accomplishments of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Myrtle – She’s completely frumpy in 2014, but we might have said similarly dismissive things about Hazel not so long ago.
Not Quite Tree Names
Arbor – I first heard Arbor as a given name at a wedding a few years ago – it was the name of the flower girl! If you’re disappointed that Harper is everywhere, could Arbor be a logical substitute?
Bay – There is such a thing as a bay laurel, and it is a tree – especially in California, where it was a food source for Native Americans. Bay says “body of water” to most, or maybe “spice for cooking.” But regardless of your association, Bay is an undeniable nature name, and thanks to ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, Bay has been catching on, mostly as a girl’s name.
Leaf – Before you say no way, consider this: Scandinavian heritage pick Leif is often pronounced just like leaf in the US. And Leif is having a decent run in the US, hovering just outside the Top 1000. Leaf was also the birth name of Joaquin Phoenix, and a handful of other boys in recent years.
Forrest – What other name could wrap up a post about tree names?
Need more tree names? Check out this post. And tell us: what are your favorite tree names?