What’s in a name?

The topic of naming new plants for commercial release is always an interesting aside when I talk to people involved with breeding and hybridising – how do they choose a name for their plant? Is it straight from the heart or a more businesslike proposition?

When I visited the Amazing Iris Garden near Katikati in November I was amused to see a row of plants with the tag Baboon Bottom. It’s hard to imagine someone showing off their garden without trying to avoid that name or offering an apology on its behalf. But American Brad Kasperek names all the irises he breeds at his Zebra Gardens in Utah for wild animals so here come Tiger Honey, Bewilderbeest and Orangutan Orange (perhaps he only sells them two by two?).


Would Baboon Bottom smell as sweet by any other name? Photo: Sandra Simpson

Personally, I think it’s a bit daft, especially when you get irises called Drunk Skunk and Ode to a Toad, but then I was never a fan of Sexy Rexy, a perfectly nice Sam McGredy rose burdened with a silly name. In the video link (click on his name) he reveals that left to his own devices the red rose that is Olympiad would have been named Frank Sinatra – and also reveals just how successful Olympiad was for him in the American market.

Sam has had more winners with his names than not, including one rose that he didn’t even breed. Schneewittchen is a particularly famous rose bred in 1958 that is still popular around the world and grown widely in this country. Never heard of it?

When it was due to be released in Britain, Sam (who then lived in Northern Ireland and had one of the UK’s largest rose-breeding nurseries) and the breeder’s agent got talking and Sam advised that although it was a good rose, the name would hold it back. “Well, would you give it an English name,” he was asked. He agreed and in due course came up with … Iceberg. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield agonises over names – it has to be something that stands out from the crowd of roses on the market but equally it has to be appealing (refer: Baboon Bottom). “The name is so important, it’s another marketing tool,” Rob says. “When a good name is used on a dud rose it’s a real shame.”

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Blackberry Nip. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Blackberry Nip was his first commercial release and is still a strong seller (it now also has a climbing form). That name came to him in a flash, partly from the colour of the bloom. I had a favourite great-aunt whose preferred tipple was Blackberry Nip so I have a soft spot for Rob’s rose – and that is exactly how the whole thing works.

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