Arbutus, the Flower Name You’ve Never Heard Of

arbutusLily, Daisy, Jasmine, Rose…Arbutus?

When I first saw Arbutus on the SSA’s baby name list, I’ll admit I had no idea what I was looking at. A myth name? A misspelling?

Turns out it’s a flower name.

“Arbutus,” the Latin word for strawberry tree, today commonly refers to the fragrant trailing arbutus, which was once (but is no longer) classified in the genus Arbutus.

Trailing arbutus (a.k.a. Epigaea repens, mayflower) is the official floral emblem of both Massachuetts and Nova Scotia.

The name Arbutus was given to dozens of baby girls every year from the 1910s to the 1940s. In 1927, it ranked 1,081st — within spitting distance of the top 1,000 (just 8 babies away).

[Some people even got “Trailing Arbutus” as a name. I’ve found two women in West Virginia marriage records named Trailing Arbutus, and H. L. Mencken mentions a Trailing Arbutus — last name Vines, sadly — in Tennessee.]

But the name Arbutus is rarely bestowed nowadays. It’s not stylish-sounding, it features the undesirable letter sequence b-u-t, and (I’m guessing) not many people know it refers to a flower.

Do you like the name Arbutus? Would you ever consider using it?

Image: Epigaea repens II by dogtooth77


9 thoughts on “Arbutus, the Flower Name You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. I also saw this on the SSA list and had to look it up! I’d never heard of the flower before but thought if it were pronounced AR-buh-tiss or something it might sound alright. So, I checked on the pronunciation and discovered that it’s ar-BYOO-tis. Yuck. BYOO is definitely a name killer right now!

  2. I’m sure someone somewhere calls it “AR buh tiss”. It might be an unexpected way as a middle name for a little girl to honor an Arthur relative (or if you’re a Mayflower descendent). With Tuss or Tess as a nickname, kind of stylish. (Oops, just searched Tussy: while historically also connected to flowers, now it’s ghetto slang.)

  3. My grandmother was named Clara Arbutus. As in the south it seems that the middle name is what you go by. Since she was the oldest of 8 and the rest could not pronounce her name she was called “Boots” until the day she died. Yes, because of her and my grandfather, I knew that it was a flower. I am not sure if I would use that name for a child. I do miss my grandmother “Boots” though.

  4. A gf from school I knew with the name Arbutus (named after a family member) went by beauty for “short.”

  5. My mom’s name is Arbutus. She was born in 1947 in rural Wisconsin, she goes by Abby. I guess when they were drafting for the Vietnam war she used to get tons of calls for MR. Arbutus…. It is pronounced Ar-byoo-tus.

  6. My mother’s name is May Arbutus – she goes by “Artie”. Never knew there were any other women by this name! She has said that she was just glad her mother didn’t name her “Trailing Arbutus”! I am a movie fan and found out that actor Robert Ryan’s mother’s name was Arbutus! My mother said I made her day.

  7. I’ve met two ladies named Arbutus, and the town cemetery has an Arbutus also. One of the ladies went by Boots as someone else mentioned.

  8. Seems like Arbutus is one of those names that’s always shortened to a nickname — Abbie, Artie, Arbie, Boots, etc. “Boots” is pretty cute. :)

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