Arbutus, the flower name you’ve never heard of

trailing arbutus

Lily, Daisy, Jasmine, Rose…Arbutus?

When I first spotted “Arbutus” in the U.S. baby name data, 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 Massachusetts and Nova Scotia.

Graph of the usage of the baby name Arbutus in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Arbutus

The baby name Arbutus, very rare nowadays, was given to dozens of baby girls every year from the 1910s to the 1940s. In 1927, it ranked 1,081st — just a few babies away from top-1,000 status.

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 — surname Vines, incredibly — in Tennessee.

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

Image: Adapted from Epigaea repens (Trailing arbutus) by Fritz Flohr Reynolds under CC BY-SA 3.0.

12 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. :)

  9. I was reading some family history online and saw that one of my aunts has the middle name Arbutus…but spelled “Arbutis”–What an interesting name! Wild Strawberry Tree–love that! Thanks for sharing this info.

  10. My grandma’s name is Arbutus and in looking up the meaning, I found this site. She went by “Beauty Gal” and “Russ”. So cool and thanks everyone for sharing!

  11. My grandma was Daisy Arbutus. She went by Arbutus, as her mom was also Daisy. They used Buty for a nickname. As a child I heard my grandpa call her that and didn’t realize it was her nickname, I just thought he was calling her Beauty. She also had strawberry blond hair, which is interesting since an arbutus is a strawberry tree.

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