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Gift_white_rosesThis Friday will be The Day of the Roses, which sounds lovely, but has a tragic meaning. January 18 this year marks the 36th anniversary of the Granville train  disaster, when a crowded train was derailed in a suburb of western Sydney, and hit the supports of a railway bridge. The bridge collapsed onto the train carriages, crushing the passengers inside. 83 people were killed, and more than 200 injured; it was then Australia’s worst peace time disaster, and is still the worst rail accident in Australian history.

The Granville Memorial Trust was established to commemorate the victims and to campaign for improvements to rail safety. Since the disaster, there has been a substantial increase in money spent maintaining the railways, and standards have improved. Each year on the anniversary of the crash, the Trust organises a memorial service, in which a bell rings 83 times, and 83 roses are thrown onto the railway tracks – one for each of the victims.

Rose is not the simple flower name it at first appears, for it began life as the Germanic name Hrodohaidis or Hrodheid, meaning “bright kind, famous kind” (kind in the sense of type, sort). It was the Normans who introduced it to Britain in the forms Roes, Rohais, Roheis and Rohese. The name Rohese was a fairly common one amongst the Norman nobility in England after the Conquest.

The form Rose began to be used by the early 1200s – even this early it was already being associated with the flower, whose name is French, derived from the Latin rosa. It goes back to an ancient word meaning “sweetbriar” (a wild rose also known as the eglantine rose).

Roses are tens of millions of years old, and have been grown in gardens for thousands of years – perhaps first in China, although they were grown in Persia, Babylon and ancient Egypt as well. The flower was sacred to the goddess Isis, and later the Greeks and Romans identified it with Aphrodite or Venus, so that it became seen as a blossom of beauty and eternal love – which is one reason why you are more likely to receive roses on Valentine’s Day than daisies or sweetpeas.

In medieval Christianity, roses became associated with the Virgin Mary, were carefully cultivated by monks, and in both Christian and Islamic mysticism, the rose can be a symbol of divine love. The rose is the national flower of England and the floral emblem of the United States; the red rose is the symbol of socialism; the white rose of peaceful resistance. The Romans used it as a symbol of secrecy, and to alchemists it meant balance and unity.

This ancient flower speaks to our hearts on so many different levels, and the rose has a richness of beauty we cannot help but admire. Yet it is mysterious too, and its thorns urge us to keep our distance, even while its loveliness attracts. Roses are by no means vain beauties, because they can be used to make perfumes, skin care products and medicines; rose hips can be made into jams, syrups and teas (in fact I am drinking a cup of it as I write). Rose petals are also edible.

We often think of Rose as being a quintessentially English name, and a beautiful Englishwoman is even called an “English rose”. Yet the name is also French, and Rose is Top 100 in France, as well as in England/Wales and Scotland.

In Australia, Rose is a classic which has always charted. It was #55 in 1900, and gradually fell until it left the Top 100 in the 1930s. It reached its lowest point in the 1970s, at #287, and after that began a stately rise, with its sharpest increase in the late 2000s. By 2008 it was near the bottom of the Top 100, and each year has continued to steadily gain. In 2011 it was #66 in New South Wales, and in Victoria and the ACT it has proved to be one of the names with the most growth during 2012. Rose is also extremely popular as a middle name.

Rose is an overwhelmingly feminine name, yet isn’t frilly. It’s both sensual and sensible, possessing the ripeness of a mature woman rather than a frivolous girl. It’s a short name, yet doesn’t seem abrupt or harsh but rather, soft and velvety as one of its own petals. Despite being an English word, there are many international variants of Rose, and it is easily understood in other countries. It is a name from fairy tale, reminding us of Briar Rose, the sleeping beauty, and Rose-Red, the vivid sister of fair Snow-White – and yet it also has a practical and wholesome appeal.

Increasing numbers of parents are choosing the name Rose for their daughters. In The Little Prince, the prince, who is in love with the only rose on his planet, cries in dismay when he comes to Earth and sees dozens of rose bushes; he has given his heart to something special, and found it commonplace. But a wise fox teaches him that his rose is unique, because it is the only one that he loves. There may be a garden of Roses in the world, but only one Rose who blooms there will be the one in your heart.

POLL RESULT: Rose received an approval rating of 86%, making it one of the most highly esteemed names of the year. The name Rose was judged to be beautiful and feminine (54%) and pretty and wholesome (21%), although 7% thought it was better left in the middle position. Nobody thought that the name Rose was boring.