American Names · Modern names


Poppy is a cheerful-sounding flower name that recently became popular in the United States! After almost 100 years of sporadic usage here (including a mini-spike in the 70s that was mostly contained to California), it finally debuted in the top 1000 in 2016. The name has been popular in the U.K. for much longer; the English and Welsh charts only extend back to 1996, but she’s been in their top 100 for most of those 20-odd years. In 2014, Poppy was the 5th most popular girls’ name there!  Poppy‘s current U.S. rank is #747.

Despite Poppy‘s happy sound, there’s a bittersweet backstory. The flower has long been associated with war, and especially World War I. A 1915 poem called “In Flanders Fields” depicts the growth of poppies on the battlefield graves of recently-buried soldiers.  Within a decade after its publishing, the poppy became a symbol for remembrance of service members who’ve died in war. That connection has stuck – artificial poppies are still passed out around military holidays every year to help fund veterans’ charities. In my opinion, and despite any potential sadness associated with the flower, I think the name Poppy could be a meaningful choice for families trying to honor a service-member relative. 

A vibrant depiction of a poppy field by artist Robert Vonnoh, c. 1890

There is a much trickier association for the name Poppy, though. Depending on how the flower’s seeds are harvested or extracted, they can either become safe seasonings for food *or* opiates (which are classified under opioids). Somehow, I don’t think most parents are making connections between pretty flowers and deadly drugs; indeed, dozens of girls are named Belladonna (poisonous plant) every year. More than anything, I think it’s surprising that of all the times Poppy could have become a popular baby name, it just had to be in the middle of the Opioid Crisis.

Drug associations aside, the fact is that American parents are choosing this name for their daughters in increasing numbers. I think its British popularity does influence some anglophiles, but there’s more to it. Poppy‘s rise here is probably heavily tied to contemporary pop culture.

People Named Poppy:

  • Poppy Montgomery (b. 1972) – Actress, born in Australia.
  • Poppy Harlow (b. 1982) – CNN commentator; Poppy is her nickname.
  • Poppy Delevingne (b. 1986) – British model/actress who recently had a role in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
  • Poppy (b. 1995) – Singer, uses Poppy as her stage name.

Poppy tends to make the rounds with “celebrity” babies, too. Notably, the name belongs to one of Chef Jamie Oliver’s daughters, a great-granddaughter of former President George H.W. Bush (whose childhood nickname was Poppy), and the daughter of Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent (of “Nate and Jeremiah by Design” fame, though she was born before the show launched). Those last two were born in 2015.

Major or Recent Characters named Poppy:

  • Princess Poppy – main character in the movie Trolls (2016)
  • Poppy Adams – villain in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, played by Julianne Moore
  • Poppy Pomfrey – Hogwarts school nurse in Harry Potter series
  • Poppy Meadow – character in the British soap opera EastEnders from 2011 to 2014
California Poppy

It’s also worth mentioning that the California Poppy is that state’s official flower. In 2016, 379 girls were named Poppy nationally; 52 of those were born in CA, and there were more there than in any other state. Part of that’s because they have the largest population, the floral association probably helps too. It’d certainly help explain why the 70s mini-spike was mostly contained there.

What do you think of the name Poppy – would you use it? Would some of the more negative associations influence your decision, or do the positive associations outweigh them? Let me know! 

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