The Grammarphobia Blog

Rose is a rose, or is he?

Q: Does the name “Sally” have anything to do with the verb “sally,” as in “Let’s sally forth”? Is the name “Ginger” related to the spice “ginger”? Did people named “Ernest” and “Frank” make such an impression that their names became ensconced in the language as the adjectives “earnest” and “frank”? Or is this all coincidence?

A: In other words, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but did the flower give us the woman’s name? I’ll have more about this rose business later, but first your questions.

“Sally,” it turns out, is a nickname for “Sarah” and has nothing to do with the look-alike verb. The r’s in names sometimes become l’s in nicknames (“Dorothy/Dolly,” “Harold/Hal,” and others). For more, see the May 6, 2008, blog item on nicknames.

“Ginger,” on the other hand, does indeed come from the English word for the spice as well as the reddish-brown color. But it can also be a diminutive of the name “Virginia” (think Ginger Rogers).

“Ernest” is derived from an Old English word, eornust, meaning seriousness, while “Frank” comes from a Teutonic word for the West Germanic tribes known as the Franks.

“Frank,” as you probably know, is also a nickname for Francis (yes, that was Frank Sinatra’s first name).

As for “Rose,” a bunch of websites say it’s derived from various old Germanic words, including the name of “a giantess of Norse mythology.” But the Oxford English Dictionary gives a more prosaic source – the Latin word rosa, which means (you guessed it) a rose.

P.S.: The famous Gertrude Stein remark, often misquoted, is “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, is a rose.” The “Rose” in question was the English painter Francis Rose.

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