How Roses Get Their Names

RosesShakespeare’s famous line proposes that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But for rose breeders who spend years developing a rose, the name is very important and not just any name will do.

Celebrity, family and even famous events all rank as potential inspiration for rose names. Learn how a rose gets its name and why some roses become well-known, while others quietly fade away.

How Roses Are Born

It takes about a decade for a rose to go from seedling to marketable product. Rose breeders start the process by making hundreds of crosses between rose plants. Those crosses typically yield a total of 3,000 to 5,000 seeds, about half of which germinate.

Breeders rate seedlings as they grow, removing ones that show weakness or disease susceptibility. Promising seedlings are grafted onto rootstocks in a nursery field, where they grow for several years. Northern Ireland’s Dickson Nurseries, owned by the world’s oldest rose-breeding family, reports that roughly one in 100,000 rose crosses actually results in a marketable rose.

Where Names Come From

The names chosen for roses are all-important. Breeders usually select a name that helps describe the rose’s heritage. Marketers want a name that will sell and become the next household word.

For instance, “Radrazz” is the breeder name for the well-known Knock Out rose. The beloved yellow Julia Child rose goes by the breeder name “WEKvossutono.” It’s easy to see why even rose aficionados find breeder names tough to remember.

Some rose names have stood the test of time, like Peace or Queen Elizabeth. Others, like Knock Out or Flower Carpet have entered the modern vernacular courtesy of clever marketing schemes and widespread availability through retail box stores.

In the early 20th century, rose breeders named roses after family members. A classic is the Dorothy Perkins rose, named after the granddaughter of rose breeder Charles Perkins of Jackson & Perkins roses. By the 1950s, in a bid to popularize new roses, inspiration for rose names shifted to Hollywood stars, like Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.

Since then, roses have taken their names from many sources, from well-known public figures to seasonal occurrences:

  • Famous individuals: Claude Monet and Babe Ruth
  • Royalty: Diana, Princess of Wales, and Queen Elizabeth
  • Presidents: Mister Lincoln and Ronald Reagan
  • First ladies: Laura Bush and Hillary First Lady
  • Faith figures: Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II
  • Events: Daybreak and Kentucky Derby
  • Literary characters: Jack Frost and Cinderella
  • Locations: Big Apple and Dublin
  • Seasons and the weather: Arctic Snow and Maytime
  • Animals: Sea Gull and Butterfly Wings

Some roses boast generic names, such as Carefree Beauty or Avalanche. Generic names usually give clues about the rose’s appearance or ease of growing. Unfortunately, marketers say generically named roses just don’t prove as memorable as names like Barbara Bush or Lucille Ball.

Some breeders keep a few roses available for private commission, allowing people like you to choose the official name, for a fee. Prices vary, running up to $10,000 or more.

Shakespeare may have had it right about roses – fragrance trumps the name. But there’s just something plain fun about growing a rose named Cuddles, Hot Lips or Banana Split.