Flowers have long had a language of their own. Throughout history they have been used as symbols or attributes to define specific qualities. Ancient civilisations attributed plants to the specific characteristics of their gods. Aphrodite, and later her Roman counter-part Venus, was associated with roses and myrtle, which symbolised love. The poppy was sacred to Demeter as it often grew in wheat fields, over which she presided.
Flowers were also used in religious art during the Medieval period. Lilies were depicted in association with the Virgin Mary, and symbolised purity and chastity. The rose, in an effort to move away from its pagan associations, became associated with divine love and martyrdom.*
Shakespeare used the symbolism of flowers in Hamlet. In Act 4, Ophelia hands out rosemary (remembrance), pansies (thoughts), fennel (flattery), columbine (foolishness), rue (adultery), daisies (innocence) and violets (faithfulness) to express her feelings. The Elizabethan audience, familiar with symbolic images, would have understood exactly what deeper meaning she was trying to convey through her flower-giving.
It was the Victorians who took the idea of flower symbolism and really went to town by using flowers to communicate messages. The sending of flowers suddenly had a deeper meaning. Giving syrian marrow could mean "I am consumed by love," and sending a coltsfoot, "Justice shall be done."*
Lady Mary Wortley Montague is generally attributed with bringing the concept of sending messages through flowers to Britain in 1716, after spending time in Turkey. In 1819 the first book on the subject, Le Language des Fleurs, was written by Charlotte de la Tour, offering advice to those who wished to send secret flower messages. Many handbooks and dictionaries followed during the reign of Victoria, listing flowers and attributing meanings and phrases.
Thus flower etiquette was born. They even gave it a fancy name: floriography. Some handbooks were more widely used than others and, although there were, generally, many similarities between the definitions, there appears to have been no definitive consensus. It was clearly important that a courting couple were reading from the same flower dictionary as it could have meant the difference between a kiss or a slap.
So what does this all have to do with names? Well, flower names have been a staple of British monikers for centuries. Many of them have no etymology other than "the name of a flower" (although there are a few exceptions such as Iris, Pansy and Daisy). Flower symbolism gives each of these names an added layer of meaning, or at least an interesting bit of history.
Below is a list of flower-names with their meaning attributed (I've also included a few plant-names). I have used several Victorian floriography handbooks as a source (bibliography) and opted for the most frequently attributed meaning when there have been inconsistencies.
Splendid beauty, Pride.
Think of me (white).
Dignity and elegance.
Generous and devoted affection.
Sports, games, play.
First emotions of love (purple),
Youthful innocence (white).
Love of nature.
Fantastic extravagance (scarlet).
Thoughts of absent friends.