How Roses Get Their Names

Shakespeare'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.


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 and Audrey Hepburn. Some roses boast generic names intended to give clues about the rose's appearance or ease of growing, such as Carefree Beauty or, more recently, Avalanche. 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.


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
  • Nature: Arctic Snow and Maytime
  • Animals: Sea Gull and Butterfly Wings


Since we’re dropping famous rose names, here are a few more of our favorites.  


'Barbara Bush' is a Hybrid Rea with coral pink blooms marked with white. To get even more presidential, combine it with 'Ronald Reagan,' a beautiful red Hybrid Rea with a white reverse or 'Mister Lincoln,' an intensely fragrant red Hybrid Rea.


'Barbra Streisand' is a beautiful, rich purple Hybrid Tea with a lovely nose.


'Bing Crosby' is a deep orange Hybrid Tea with light, spicy fragrance. Bing's good buddy 'Bob Hope' is a cherry red Hybrid Tea


'Chris Evert' is a Hybrid Tea with bright orange blooms blushed with red.


'Della Reese' is a wine-red Hybrid Tea with intense fragrance.


'Dolly Parton,' also a Hybrid Tea, has voluptuous coppery orange-red flowers with a spicy clove fragrance.


'Elizabeth Taylor' is a Hybrid Tea with hot pink blooms.


'Ingrid Bergman' is a radiant red Hybrid Tea.


'John-John' produces beautiful yellow flowers in small sprays. It's an excellent landscape Floribunda with very good disease resistance. It seems like a perfect match for pure white 'John F. Kennedy.'


'Judy Garland' is a Floribunda with bright yellow blooms that blush to orange and red.


'Marilyn Monroe' is a shapely Hybrid Tea with creamy apricot flowers touched with hints of green.


'Phyllis Diller' is a vigorous Grandiflora with huge sprays of yellow blooms.


'Princesse de Monaco' is a lovely Hybrid Tea with clear white blooms edged in soft pink.


There are a practically endless variety of famous roses, all of which make unique gifts as well as conversation starters. 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.