23 October 2010

Lavender

she speaks in velvets IIII.
Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green...
"I've never been in style, so I can never go out of style." –Lillian Gish

The Lady Lavender: she's tender, gentle yet moody, sensitive, eccentric, jolie laide... and has much in common with the infinitely more popular Violet. Besides being shades of purple and flowering plants with purplish blossoms, they're also both Roald Dahl characters and, I might add, Lavender Brown of Matilda was worlds more likable than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Violet Beauregard. Why isn't Lavender more popular?

I agree with voters at Behind the Name, who rated her highly on youthfulness and strangeness; she is also considered refined, upperclass, delicate, wholesome and natural. Is there not something a bit melancholy (bluish) about her, too? Besides that she strikes me as quirky, British and loyal – a stable friend who'd weather the storms.

She comes across as old-fashioned, but relatively speaking, Lavender is not so old after all. I wish I knew when she first appeared as a given name, but it couldn't have been until after the word stopped meaning "washerwoman;" in the 14th century, for example, baby girls would NOT have been named Lavender as (thanks to Chaucer) we know that lauender then denoted a woman who did the laundry. In fact, many online sources uphold the theory that this name comes from Latin lavare meaning "to wash;" however, The Word Guy is not convinced, dismissing it as a common misconception. He writes:
What we may be seeing here are TWO words that look and sound the same but come from different origins: lavender the washer-woman from lavere, and lavender the plant from livere [meaning “to be livid or bluish”]... Hypothesizing that lavender is based on the notion of being blue in color seems much better than supposing it was used as a washing agent.

Lavender (12), John (3) & Rosemary (14), 1920

Probably Lavender was first used as a given name in the 19th century, when many other plant and flower names were coined. Along with Rosemary and other botanicals, Lavender was trendy in Edwardian England, even though Victorian-era "floriography" had saddled her with the symbolic meaning of "concealment, distrust." It took until 1930 for lavender to be made an official colour. It was the colour Sir Isaac Newton admired most in his garden.

The herb is comforting, cleansing and autumnal. The name itself calms me and puts me at ease, having taken on qualities of the plant. She's out-there-but-not. She is on my list.

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