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Spicy Names

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Written by   504
1 year ago
Topics: Spices, Names

What about names of spices or spice-like herbs used as given names of humans? I have done some brief research on this, and although I am not pretending to have done that systematically and exhaustively, I could conclude that such given names are not common.

I once received an email from a reader whose name was Coriander, and I must admit that it was the first time I heard of anyone with that name. It must be very rare, at least in that form. As I wrote above, the word coriander is derived from an old Mycenaean word, ko-ri-ja-da-na, the same as the name of Minos' daughter, later called Ariadne. Our reader Coriander had been happy to see this, she had always believed in another etymology, where the word would be derived from Greek corys, meaning bedbug, and refer to the smell of bedbugs. Not a very appealing epithet for a girl!

Impossible as it is to say with certainty whether a derivation of a word is right or wrong, this shows how troublesome etymology can be. Sometimes we may have to accept that there are multiple possible explanations. But Coriander, the girl, is free to choose the one she finds most appealing for her own name.

But what other names are there?

In English, Ginger, Rosemary and Basil come to mind.

Ginger and Basil, however, don't originally refer to the spices at all, and that is likely to be the case with Rosemary as well. Ginger is a nick-form of Virginia, and Basil comes from Greek basilikos, royal, or basileos, king.

Most probably, Rosemary is derived from Latin ros, dew, and marinus, sea. That's for the spice, and likely for the girl as well – there is no reason to believe the girl being named after the spice. And this is probably a common phenomenon. The name of the spice and the human name have the same origin, but one is not derived from the other.

There is also a legend about the Virgin Mary, that the rosemary flowers would have turned blue by that she rested with her blue cloak spread over a rosemary bush. The bush would then have been called the Rose of Mary.

A third suggestion is that the name is derived from Greek rhops myrinos, balsamic shrub – based on a connection between two Greek words: libanotis, rosemary, and libanos, incense.

Sage (male or female) and Saffron (female) also occur as names in English. Sage means the wise one and Saffron stems from Arabic za'faran and possibly even older Akkadian azupiranu. It refers to yellow.

Interestingly, the Latin name of the plant from which we get saffron is Crocus sativum, and via Greek and Arabic intermediaries, crocus stems from Aramaic kurkumena, which also refers to yellow or yellowish. This is also the origin of the term curcumin, the active substance of turmeric, another yellow spice, although it is botanically unrelated to saffron.

While Sage as a name hardly refers to the spice-herb, I'm less sure about Saffron. However, it must be extremely rare. (In Mellow Yellow, from 1966, Donovan sings about a girl named Saffron: “I'm just mad about Saffron, she's just mad about me.”)

Mint is used as a name in English as Minta and Minty, and in Finnish as Minttu. The name comes from a water nymph in Greek mythology, Minthe [Μένθη], who was turned into a mint plant.

I have not found any use of marjoram as a name in English, but it exists in French, as Marjolaine, and in Dutch, as Marjolijn or Marjolein. It might possibly stem from Sanskrit maruva.

Sweet marjoram is as amaracum in Latin. In Arab legend it is an ingredient in medicines, perfumes and love potions! The given name Marwa [مروة] refers to its Arabic name.

While I have heard of only one Cinnamon, at that a fictional character (Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible), the Hebrew name Qetsiyah, or Ketzi'ah [קְצִיעָה], which means cassia, a spice often used instead of cinnamon, has generated many English forms, although none of them very common. Some examples are Keisha, Keshia, Kezia, Kizzy, Lakeisha, Lakisha, and other spelling variants of them. The original Qetsiyah was the second daughter of Job.

Qetsiyah became Cassia in Latin, and that also led to names, such as Kassia, Kassy, Cassiah, and so on.

Pepper exists as a (female) given name in English. Another name with the meaning pepper, is Old Egyptian Sabola (which is male).

Mekhag is an Armenian name, meaning clove, and Tupaarnaq is an Inuit name meaning arctic thyme.

That's all I have been able to find. East Asia does not have this sort of names. They cannot be found in Chinese, for instance.

Let's end this survey with something bordering on spices without really being one: myrrh. It has generated a number of names. The male Myron [Μύρων] in Greek, Miron [Мирон] in Russian. An ancient Greek, female form of Myron is Myrrine [Μυρρίνη]. Finally we have the English and female Myra, with the spelling variant Mira. The name, Myra, was created by Elizabethan poet Fulke Greville who lived 1554-1628.

(This article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Spices & Herbs”, 2018.)

Copyright © 2014, 2018, 2020 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

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Written by   504
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Topics: Spices, Names
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