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What’s in a Name?

by Rita Perwich, Consulting Rosarian, San Diego Rose Society

Juliet believed that, “[a] rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But does it? At the Chelsea Flower Show a few years ago I saw what was unmistakably Tom Carruth’s climbing rose, Fourth of July…but it was labelled “Crazy For You”. Certainly that name change helped Carruth’s rose “smell” sweeter for the British rose buyer! American-born chef Julia Child is lesser known hence less beloved in other countries, so the buttery-gold disease-resistant rose known to us as Julia Child is sold world-wide under six other names each suited to its differing market. It is known as Absolutely Fabulous in Britain and New Zealand, Anisade in France and Soul Mate in Australia. Fragrant Memorial Day is sold as Heaven Scent in the UK and Australia and Parfum de Liberté in France. (BOTTOM LEFT: 'Memorial Day' aka Heaven Scent and Parfum de Liberté, photo by Rita Perwich. TOP: 'Sexy Rexy', photo by Rich Baer)

Hybridizers spend many years to perform the magic that results in a beautiful new rose. They, like all new parents, then face the pressure to find the perfect name for their new creation. Naming a rose is a difficult but a very important decision. Tom Carruth should know. Within the span of thirty-five years, from 1986 through 2021, Carruth has introduced 150 roses. He knows that buyers won’t buy roses with forgettable or unattractive names. But a great name? A great name can sell and keep even a so-so rose on the market. (ABOVE: Photos by Rita Perwich, 'Fourth of July’, RIGHT, is sweeter for the British when its ‘Crazy for You’, LEFT)

So how do roses get their names? It takes a hybridizer about 10 years to bring a new variety of rose to market. The new rose is patented with a ‘denomination', or code name which always starts with the first three letters of the breeder’s name. For instance, MEI for Meilland, SPR for Jim Sproul, WEK for Weeks Roses and RAD for Radler. "Radrazz" is the breeder name for the well-known Knock Out rose. The beloved yellow Julia Child rose bred by Carruth when he was working for Weeks Roses goes by the name “WEKvossutono. ('Julia Child', aka Absolutely Fabulous, Anisade, Soul Mate)


These breeder names are tough to remember and not user friendly so naming the variety with a catchy memorable commercial name is the next very important step for the hybridizer or the nursery owner of the variety. The rose is introduced to the public once it is christened with an easily remembered name that has commercial appeal. Hybridizers register their roses with the American Rose Society (ARS) which makes the rose eligible to be entered in rose shows. They also apply for a federally-registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A plant patent application must also be submitted to the USPTO within the rose’s first year of introduction on the commercial market to protect the propagation rights.

Catchy unforgettable names like Sexy Rexy, Gourmet Popcorn, Ketchup & Mustard, Sugar Moon, St. Patrick and Marilyn Monroe can do wonders for sales…but not all catchy names can be used. Names that have already been used are only available if the original rose is out of commerce. When a rose is named for an actual person that person has to give their permission. You won’t find a Michelle Obama or a Hillary Clinton rose as these first ladies haven’t given their permission…yet. Mister Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul ll will always be immensely important world figures, and their names have forever been memorialized with beautiful well-known classic roses. (LEFT: 'Marilyn Monroe' and her show-stopping blooms)

Some names and roses come together in perfect serendipity. When Carruth was searching for a name for WEKsunspa, his exquisite creamy apricot hybrid tea rose with its show-stopping exhibition blooms and long stems, the rights to the name of the beautiful actress Marilyn Monroe became available for a one-time licensing fee. In 2003, one-of-a-kind gorgeous WEKsunspa, now perfectly matched with the name of the legendary actress, made its debut on the market as Marilyn Monroe, and its fate was sealed as an unforgettable classic. Other roses that bear the names of famous people and celebrities include Dolly Parton, Lynn Anderson, Barbara Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, George Burns, Chris Evert, Princesse de Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales. (LEFT: Tom Carruth with Huntington’s 100th aka Life of the Party)


David Austin is reputed to have chosen the name of each of his English roses to match the unique character of the individual rose. His romantic fragrant roses are named after all-things British including famous British authors, William Shakespeare, Emily Brontë and Roald Dahl; characters in British literature, Lady of Shallot, Prospero, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Desdemona, Bathsheba and Wife of Bath; British horticulturists Gertrude Jekyll and Graham Thomas; famous British gardens, Munstead Wood, Wisley and Kew Gardens, and famous British places Wollerton Old Hall and Winchester Cathedral. Jubilee Celebration and Royal Jubilee were named to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden and Diamond anniversaries on the throne. Some of Austin’s roses are named for royalty, including Queen of Sweden, Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra of Kent and many of his cultivars are named in honor of his family. Olivia Rose Austin, the rose named after his granddaughter, was in David Austin’s opinion possibly the best rose that he had ever introduced before his death in 2019. Many agree with him and Olivia Rose Austin, the rose, just received the ARS 2020 Members Choice Award and the James Alexander Gamble fragrance award for 2020.

As curator of the rose garden at the Huntington in San Marino, Carruth uses his design skills to showcase the collection of 2,500 roses to perfection, mostly by placement according to size, class, shape and color of their blooms. But sometimes a rose dictates placement by its name. At the Huntington you will find Carruth’s playful placement of Hanky Panky next to Sexy Rexy; Marilyn Monroe together with John F. Kennedy; and Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan in a bed together, with Ginger Rogers and Dick Clark as very close neighbors. (ABOVE: Hot Cocoa for us, but Hot Chocolate for the British and Kiwi for the Australians)


Was Juliet right? No, I don’t think so. But you decide. Does the name of a rose add character, personality and appeal to a rose to influence your decision to purchase it? Does the rose’s name intensify your love for a rose? Does it pique your curiosity? I will admit to really wanting to know the inside scoop behind the name Tipsy Imperial Concubine!

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