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This follows on from Girls Names From Native Australian Flowers. If you thought it would be hard for me to find floral boys’ names, you were right, and many hours were spent poring over gardening books and field guides. I did notice that several of the names come from plants that are traditionally used as female names, so this might be a way to find a boy’s name which honours a Daisy, Iris, or Lily, for example.
Acacia baileyana is the scientific name for Cootamundra Wattle, a small tree with silvery-green leaves and masses of golden blossom in the spring. It is native to New South Wales around the town of Cootamundra, which holds a Wattle Time Festival every year when the wattle blooms. However, it is extremely adaptable, and will grow almost everywhere – if anything it grows a little too well, and can escape into the bush and become an invasive weed. Its scientific name honours Frederick Manson Bailey, a colonial botanist in Queensland. Bailey is an occupational surname originally designating someone who was a bailiff, the officer executing the decisions of a lower legal court (these days such duties are usually carried out by local councils). It has been used as a personal name since at least the 18th century, and Bailey has charted in Australia since the 1990s, when it was catapulted straight into the Top 50 from almost nowhere, debuting at #32 in 1997. It peaked in 2004-2005 at #27, and is currently #77. Although only popular for boys, Bailey is sometimes used for girls. Bailey provides a way for boys as well as girls to be named after the patriotic acacia tree.
Carex is the scientific name for grass-like plants commonly known as true sedges. Sedges are common all over the world, and nearly always found in wetlands; if you’ve ever walked around a swamp or lake, sedge is the dense stiff grassy stuff along the edge which might cut your hands if you try to gather it. Although sedges are not usually thought of as terrifically exciting – hardly anyone hopes for a bouquet of sedges on Valentine’s Day – they are vitally important to the ecology of our wetlands. Anyone working on a project to save a wetlands area will need native sedges to plant along lakes and riverbanks to stabilise the soil, and they are also around dams and garden ponds. They bloom in spring; the flowers are tiny, and appear on short spikes. I have seen a boy named Carex in a birth notice, and this is a daring and environmentally aware choice that is on trend for boy’s names ending in -x, like Felix and Max.
Banksia ericifolia is the scientific name for Heath Banksia, a medium to large shrub with eye-catching orange or red flowers which bloom in autumn or winter. Banksias are famous for their flower spikes; each spike can have hundreds or even thousands of individual flowers, looking overall like a large brush. Banksia ericifolia was one of the original banksia species collected by botanist Sir Joseph Banks around Botany Bay, and the subspecies ericifolia is native to the area around Sydney. It has been adopted as the city’s official plant, and can be seen in parks and public spaces. Heath Banksia is reasonably easy to grow; if your garden is too small for a regular Heath Banskia, there is a dwarf cultivar called “Little Eric”. The eric in ericifolia comes from Ericaceae, the family of heath and heather. The name Eric is an English form of the Scandinavian name Erik, usually translated as “eternal ruler”. Although known in England since the Middle Ages, it didn’t become popular until the 19th century, after the publication of a moralising children’s book called Eric, or Little by Little. Eric is a classic which has never left the charts. It was #21 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #19. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until th 1970s, when it hit its lowest point of #149. Since then, Eric has improved slightly in popularity, and remains stable in the 100s – an extremely safe choice.
The Hawkesbury Daisy (Brachyscome multifida) grows on the east coast; it has matted foliage with the daisy flowers rising above it in mauve, pink, or white, blooming in autumn and winter. They are very popular garden plants, as they are are quite hardy and look great in borders and mass plantings. One of its cultivars is “Evan”, which was named after the son of the founder of the Australian Daisy Study Group. “Evan” is mauve with small flowers and compact foliage, easy to grow, and perfect for rockeries and hanging baskets. The name Evan is the Anglicised form of Iefan, a Welsh form of John. Evan is an underused classic in Australia – it has never left the charts, but never reached the Top 100 either. The highest it has ever been is #103 in the 1980s, and it’s never been lower than it was in the 1900s at #194, making it a handsome, solid choice which hasn’t been out of the 100s for well over a century. Evan is the poster boy for “normal but not overused” names.
Common Heath (Epacris impressa) is a small shrub native to south-east Australia; it has red, pink, or white tubular flowers which bloom from late autumn to early spring. A pink-flowered form called “pink heath” is the floral emblem for the state of Victoria. Common Heath is tricky to grow in the garden, and perhaps best enjoyed in its natural setting. Heath is an English surname which can refer to someone who lived on or near a heath, or was from one of the many English towns called Heath. Heath is an underused modern classic which has charted consistently since the 1960s without ever becoming popular. It peaked in the 1970s at #101, possibly because of Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, serialised on television that decade, and a hit song by Kate Bush in 1978. Actor Heath Ledger, born in 1979, was named after Heathcliff, with his sister Kate named after Catherine from the novel. Heath dropped to its lowest level in the 1990s at #279, but picked up the next decade when Heath Ledger’s film career took off, and gained momentum from Dan Ewing‘s performance as Heath Braxton in Home and Away. Heath is a strong, simple nature name which has long been associated with intense, hunky guys.
Caladenia orestes is the scientific name for the Burrinjuck Spider-orchid, native to New South Wales. These small, delicate flowers with dark red colouring are listed as vulnerable, so count yourself lucky if you ever find one in the bush. In Greek mythology, Orestes was the son of Agamemnon Greek commander during the Trojan War. Their family had been placed under a curse, so that their line was a rich source of Greek tragedy. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to obtain fair winds to Troy; when he got home from the Trojan War, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemestra murdered him in retribution. When Orestes grew into a young man, he murdered his mother to avenge his father’s death. According to legend, Orestes was pursued by the Furies in punishment for his crime, but he got a good lawyer in the goddess Athena, who put his case before the gods and got him acquitted (slightly rigged, as Athena was one of the judges). He was often seen by Greek writers as a dutiful son to his father, and an example of someone forced by circumstances to commit a terrible act. The name Orestes means “of the mountains”, which is the reason for the orchid’s name. An unusual and possibly controversial choice.
Patersonia is the scientific name for the Australasian flower commonly called Native Iris. It was named in honour of William Paterson, the first Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, and most species are from Western Australia. Patersonia has small flowers that are usually mauve, and can look very attractive in the garden. Paterson is a common Scottish surname which means “son of the follower of Saint Patrick“, and the Clan Paterson is from Lowland Scotland. Sir William Paterson founded the Bank of England, but perhaps the most famous episode in the Clan’s history is when Sir Hugh Paterson entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie, and his niece nursed the prince through a bad cold, becoming his mistress and bearing him an illegitimate daughter. The name Paterson could honour our national poet Banjo Paterson, and would naturally shorten to Paddy. A possible issue is another flower, the attractive but toxic purple weed commonly known as Paterson’s Curse.
Syzygium smithiim is the scientific name for the Lilly Pilly, an ornamental tree which is a member of the myrtle family; its name honours botanist Sir James Edward Smith. Lilly Pilly is native to the east coast of Australia, and has glossy leaves and cream or pink flowers which bloom in spring and summer. However, it is best known for the fruit which follows the flower – attractive edible berries with a deep pink colour. Smith is the most common English surname, and originated in northern England and Scotland. Although it later came to specifically refer to a blacksmith, the word means any craftsman in metal, hence goldsmith or swordsmith, and more generally, any creator, hence wordsmith. Metalworkers have historically been seen as magical in their skill to transform through fire, and there are several smith gods and heroes, such as Vulcan and Wayland; Cain is said to have been the father of metalsmiths. The name always reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s bittersweet fairy tale, Smith of Wooton Major. Smith has often been thought too common a surname to be used as a personal name, but gained recent familiarity through Sex and the City’s handsome Smith Jerrod (real name Jerry Jerrod). Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell has a son named Smith.
Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa) is native to the deserts of inland Australia, and highly recognisable from its striking deep red pea flowers. According to an Aboriginal legend, the flowers sprang from the blood of two murdered lovers and their child. Sturt’s Desert Pea is the floral emblem of South Australia, and is a popular subject for arts, crafts, and decorative motifs. Although it grows in such profusion in the harsh desert, Sturt’s Desert Pea is difficult to establish in the garden. It is named after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt, who recorded seeing masses of the flower during his explorations. The surname Sturt comes from the Old English for a promontory – a raised mass of land with a sharp slope on one side – and this could be given to someone who lived near such a landmark, or from a town named after one. Similar to Stuart, this is a lesser-used surname which is given meaning by the flower.
Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides) is an Australasian flowering tree in the soapberry family. It has greenish-yellow flowers which bloom in winter, followed by orange berries in the spring and summer which are a source of food for native birds. Tuckeroo is a popular ornamental tree for gardens which gives good shade and looks attractive all year round, and is often grown along streets in coastal towns of New South Wales and Queensland. The English surname Tucker is an occupational one referring to someone who softened cloth for the wool industry by tramping on it in water; the word comes from the Old English for “to torment (the cloth)”. As an Irish derivation, Tucker comes from the Gaelic O’ Tuachair, meaning “son of the brave one”. Tucker seems problematic as a first name, breaking the rule of “no names that rhyme with rude words”, but it does have a very Australian meaning, as it is slang for “food”, derived from “to tuck in”. Some people might think that’s another problem with the name in Australia. I’m not sure … any takers for Tucker?
The public’s favourite names were Heath, Evan and Tucker, and their least favourite were Carex, Orestes and Sturt.
(Picture shows Sturt’s Desert Pea; photo from Our Naked Australia)
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Bailey is one of those names that bothers me for no logical reason. I dislike it on boys or girls. I really like the rest, however, especially Carex, Eric, Heath, and Smith. Orestes would be a fabulous middle name, too.
Glad to see you got through at last! I thought Carex was great, and I do like Orestes, but could only put it in in the middle because of the tragic story.
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