About A Name: Willow

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Baum Weide

This name has been trending for years now, and received yet another popularity bump when singer Pink welcomed her first child with motocross racer Corey Hart on June 2nd in Los Angeles, daughter Willow Sage.

Tattooed wild children Pink and Carey juxtaposed their reputations by giving their daughter not one, but two names with ‘calm’ written all over them. Pink told People in June of the name choice:

“The willow is my favorite tree. I grew up near one. It’s the most flexible tree in nature and nothing can break it — no wind, no elements. It can bend and withstand anything. I love that sentiment. I want that for her. Sage is cleansing and sacred. And it sounded great together. It doesn’t hurt that her last name is Hart — flexible cleansed heart.”

As a given name, Willow has surged in popularity over the past decade, climbing from 852 in the US Top 1000 when it debuted in 1998, to 290 in 2010. The name charted in the bottom half of the Top 100 in Canada in the early part of the 2000s, and first entered Australia’s Top 100 in 2009.

To most, the word willow (the English translation of the Latin term salix) brings to mind the weeping willow – a large tree with long, ground-sweeping, green-leaved branches, or perhaps the ground plant pussy willow – famed for its silken, furry buds, or any number of trees or plants from the salix genus. Though The Who frontman Roger Daltrey named his youngest daughter Willow Amber in 1975, widespread consideration as a first name only seemed to appear after the cult success of the 1988 George Lucas/Ron Howard fantasy film, Willow. The film’s lead character was a dwarf named Willow, portrayed by actor Warwick Davis. Though Willow was male, and the name is not completely unheard of for boys, it has decidedly picked up the vast majority of its speed from its use on girls.

Teen pop singer/actress Willow (middle names Camille Reign) Smith, 10, daughter of actors Will and Jada, was given her name as a tribute to her dad. (Her older brother, Jaden, was named for mom, and their older half-brother Trey was born Willard – consider this the Smiths’ George Foreman Syndrome, put to creative and trendy use, instead of naming your sons George II through VI, and your daughters Freeda George and Georgetta.) The littlest Smith scored a big pop hit last fall with “Whip My Hair” and has starred in a few movies, including a bit part in her father’s I Am Legend in 2007.

Former US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin named her second daughter Willow Bianca Faye in 1994 – named in honour of the town of Willow in Palin’s beloved home state of Alaska, a suburb of the capital, Anchorage.

Like Harper, celebs love Willow. Rock musician Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and wife Jordyn liked both enough to give the name Harper Willow to their second daughter, born April 2009. (Perhaps a fan of nature names, their first daughter Violet Maye was born in ’07.)

In addition to Grohl’s daughter, four other celeb baby girls were given the name Willow in a span of less than two years. British pop star Mark Owen of Take That welcomed daughter Willow Rose in November 2008, followed by All My Children star Alicia Minshew’s daughter Willow Lenora in November ’09, another Willow Rose from British TV presenter Amanda Lamb in February 2010, and Good Charlotte bassist Paul Thomas welcomed daughter Willow Monroe in October 2010.

Though legendary pro baseball pitcher Randy Johnson welcomed daughter Willow in 1998, in the first half of the 21st Century the name began it’s popularity surge, and like Harper Grohl, became a middle name for many a celebrity baby – including former UK Big Brother host Davina McCall’s eldest daughter Holly Willow, born 2001, actor Breckin Meyer’s daughter Caitlin Willow, born 2003, and Daniel Cosgrove of The Young & the Restless welcomed daughter Ruby Willow in ’05.

Apart from the ’88 cult film, Willows are all over literature and pop culture. Actress Alyson Hannigan played Willow Rosenberg, the best friend on ’90s TV hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Whomping Willow is a large, violent tree on the grounds at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. In the Disney  film Pocahontas, the title character would seek advice from wise Grandmother Willow – so named due to Native American culture’s reverence to nature. Perhaps the most famous reference to the willow tree is in children’s lit – the internationally popular Wind in the Willows story by British author Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908 and adapted for stage, film, and TV numerous times since.

A variation on the trend that also has legs is Willa, which sounds a lot like hot-right-now Milla. A feminine form of the immensely popular and always trendy William, the name was used by award-winning American playwright David Mamet for his daughter in 1982, is the name of director Brian De Palma’s 20-year-old stepdaughter, and actress Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, was born Mary Willa in 1983. The early part of this decade saw model Willa Ford (real name Amanda Lee Williford) score one hit on the pop charts in North America, “I Wanna Be Bad.” She married former NHLer Mike Modano in 2007, one year before Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman welcomed daughter Willa in ’08.

My advice? Go for it. As noun-names go, this one’s growing more common by the day. But a word of caution: If Willow is on your list, you might be generally preferential to feminine sounding names – this name, apart from Willa, offers little in the feminine nickname department. Soft, flowy Willow will become Will, Willy, or even Wills (Prince William’s longtime childhood nickname). Alternately, you could call her Lolo, but that might not last her through adolescence. And if you’d like to honour a William in your family history, Willow is easily the top choice for girls (and beats cumbersome Wilhelmina).

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