A person worthy of that name: Violet Evergarden (and more Victorian flower language)

From the Roman name, Aemilia, latin word aemulus meaning rival. Industrious, hard-working, stubborn, obstinate.

When I first looked up my given name, I found something similar to the etymology and list of adjectives above. Yet, none of these explained why my parents decided to name me Emily. After all, they had no way of knowing that this ugly, squalling baby would be a diligent worker, at all stubborn, or competitive in any way. (I assert that I am some, if not all of these things at times.) So, I was named after my great-grandmother whom I never knew. My mother was close with her despite speaking no Italian — my great-grandmother was from Sicily — and my great-grandmother speaking little to no English.

In Episode 4 of Violet Evergarden, we are introduced to Iris Cannary’s family. Iris isn’t estranged from her parents, but she hasn’t been honest with them since moving from her countryside hometown of Kazaly to the city of Leiden. After reconciling with her family thanks to a letter that Violet ghostwrites for Iris, Iris is given a bouquet of her floral namesake and later explains to Violet that her parents named her “Iris” for the fields of blue iris flowers that grow near Kazaly.

Initially from the Greek goddess Iris, the iris flower has a multitude of meanings. The most prominent ones are of valor, royalty, wisdom, and hope. Blue irises, like the ones in the fields that Iris shows Violet, are said to symbolize hope and faith. In Japanese hanakotoba, the iris flower represents good news or a message of loyalty. Iris Cannary the character, like many people in Violet Evergarden, isn’t prone to expressing exactly what she thinks in words, and puts on airs of bluster and arrogance to cover up her own insecurities. Her parents don’t actually help with this, initially imposing what they believe to be best for her rather than listening to what she wants. It’s a similar message to Episode 2’s focus on Erica Brown: Violet isn’t the only one who struggles with words.

However, seeing Iris with her family — even locked in a disagreement — it’s easy to see her love and loyalty for them. More literally, for her parents, Iris herself is a message of good news and hope, even after she makes it abundantly clear that what she wants from life is not the same as what they want for her.

Upon seeing the field of irises, Violet remembers when she received her own name from Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. At that point in time, Violet was more of a shell than a human — which makes the major more of a parental figure than anything else, in turn, making his romantic intentions slightly more uncomfortable — and he gives her the name “violet” thanks in large part to the scenery.

The timely appearance of a small violet flower (Violet herself) framed against a cannon wheel (the ongoing war) is a bit on-the-nose, but Violet Evergarden is the type of series that enjoys grand, romantic gestures even as it plays with more subtle messages than words, like flower language.

Like Iris’ parents or my own parents, there are reasons beyond what the flower itself means to the gift of the name. Iris’ father and mother thought that the blooming irises that accompanied the birth of their daughter were pretty. The major saw a violet flower and decided to give that name to Violet. Although he may not have known the message of a violet — in Victorian flower language, thoughts occupied with love, or Japanese hanakotoba, honesty — he told her that she will become a person as beautiful as her namesake. This thought fades into the title of the episode: “You won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name.”

Iris and Violet aren’t alone in being named after flowers. All of the Auto Memoir Dolls at the CH Postal Company have floral names with specific meanings. Erica is derived from the Norse name Erik, but is also the latin word for the heather flower (ericaceae) which carries a meaning of luck and protection. Cattleya is a type of orchid named after botanist William Cattley. In Victorian flower language, orchids symbolized luxury and cattleya orchids more specifically meant a mature, motherly charm.

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4 comments

  1. That was an interesting read! I did a tiny bit of research when I reviewed the episode myself, but my knowledge of flower language is not nearly as extensive! Great post 😁

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