Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Juniper
Juniper is the latest tree-name-turned-female-name in a long line of forerunners: Myrtle, Hazel, Aspen, Olive, Magnolia, Laurel and Willow just to name a few. An evergreen tree, the name Juniper is borrowed from the Latin “iuniperus” meaning “bearing juniper berries”. However, the word may also be derived from the Latin “junio” related to “youth” and “pario” meaning “to spawn, create” hence the notion of an “ever-green”. The juniper tree has a wide native distribution throughout the Northern Hemisphere and is known for its twisty trunk, green needles, and its production of fragrant bluish berry seeds used as a flavorful spice. The juniper berry was said to restore and increase health; ancient people believed in its cleansing properties and burned the berries to purify homes. Native American Indians used the juniper to treat diabetes. The juniper tree was promoted during the Renaissance as a symbol of purity and chastity as evidenced by Leonardo da Vinci's c. 1474 painting “Ginevra de' Benci”: behind the painting’s female subject stands a juniper tree and on the reverse side is a juniper sprig with the Latin phrase: Virtutem Forma Decorat (“Beauty Adorns Virtue”). You can visit the painting today at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. For Catholics, the name is also closely associated with Saint Juniper, a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. We don’t know much about him but he must have been a fun-loving guy. Saint Juniper is known as the “the renowned jester of the Lord” and St. Francis famously quipped, “Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers.” Likable, humble, patient, cheerful and devoted, St. Francis referred to St. Juniper as “the perfect friar”. Californians are familiar with the Blessed Junípero Serra, founder of a chain of 21 missions spanning the 500 mile distance from San Diego to Solano, each roughly a day’s walk from the next. Junípero Serra, who took his name from the 13th century saint, is known as The Apostle of California and was beatified in 1988. Aside from the obvious association with the evergreen tree, and the “saintly” connections, Juniper is also considered an Anglicization of the Welsh name Guinevere. Nicknames and pet forms include Joon, June, Juno, Junie, Junebug and Jenny.