The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s in a name?

Q: I am expecting (due date: 4/12/2009) and I would like to name my daughter Linnea. Which spelling is most correct: Linnea or Linnèa? I know the name stems from the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

A: If your intention is to honor Linnaeus by naming your daughter after him, then the choice of whether or not to use an accent mark is entirely up to you.

But be aware that the surname Linnaeus is a Latinized version of a word in a Swedish dialect for the linden tree. Latin, of course, has no accents, though that doesn’t mean you can’t use one.

Later in life, after Linnaeus was ennobled, he adopted the name von Linné (note the acute accent).

If you do decide to go with an accent, I’d recommend an acute accent ( é ), like the one Linnaeus used, and not a grave accent ( è ), like the one you proposed. These point in different directions and have different pronunciations. Linnéa would be pronounced linn-AY-uh.

As you probably know, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is often called the father of taxonomy for his system of naming, ranking, and classifying organisms.

How did the Linnaeus family come to be named after a linden tree? Here’s the explanation, from a pamphlet by William T. Stearn and Gavin Bridson, courtesy of the Linnean Society of London:

“Carl Linnaeus’ paternal grandfather, like most Swedish peasants and farmers of his time, had no surname and was known, in accordance with the old Scandinavian name system, as Ingemar Bengtsson, being the son of Bengt Ingemarsson. When his son, Carl’s father, Nils Ingemarsson (1674-1733), went to the University of Lund, he had to provide himself with a surname for registration purposes. He invented the name Linnaeus in allusion to a large and ancient tree of the small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata Miller, T. europaea L. in part), known in the Småland dialect as ‘linn,’ which grew on the family property known in the 17th century as Linnegard.

“Other branches of the family took the names Lindelius and Tiliander from the same famous tree. The name Linnaeus was thus of Latin form from the beginning. Linnaeus, having been ennobled in 1761, first took the name of Carl von Linné in 1762, by which time he had published all of his most important works.”

I hope this helps, and that you have an easy and safe delivery!

PS: Personally, I like the name Linden.

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