Forget Me Never: Where the Name Forget-Me-Nots Came From

January 28, 2015 / Blooms Today

Being separated from a loved one, whether temporarily or permanently, is among the worst pain a person can feel. Nature seems to give us the forget-me-not flower with that in mind. This tiny blue flower is usually used as a remembrance blossom or to help ease the pain of a temporary separation. But why are forget-me-nots called forget-me-nots? What makes them special when almost any other flower can be used in remembrance, as well? Today, we’re going to examine the forget-me-not; a flower that many people often forget.


History of the Forget-Me-Not

The forget-me-not’s technical name is myositis from the Greek word for “mouse’s ear” – perhaps because they are so small. Forget-me-nots are usually thought of as blue, but pink and white varieties are available. The name itself was first used in an English form in 1532; before that, the French name ne moubiliez pas was used. One legend says that when God had named all His other flowers, one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied, “That is your name.” A similar legend says that when God had finished creating all His flowers, there was no color left except a tiny bit of blue. The forget-me-not who cried out to Him was delighted with its new color.

In a more earthbound, historical perspective, one story says in fifteenth century Germany, a knight and his lady were walking beside a river when he stopped to pick her some flowers, including the as-yet-unnamed forget-me-not. Because his armor was so heavy, he fell into the river and began to drown. He called to his lady, “Forget me not!” From that point, German ladies began to wear the flowers as signs of faithfulness to lovers, and the remembrance tradition continues today. Several similar stories about the flower’s name exist, and so far none have been proven absolutely true. However, they are all touching, romantic, and valued, especially among floral enthusiasts.

Forget-Me-Not as a Symbol

The forget-me-not’s connection to remembrance has been capitalized on for years. In 1949, residents of Newfoundland used the flower to symbolize remembrance of dead World War II veterans. German charities often use this flower as a reminder not to forget the poor, homeless, or desperate among them. During World War II, forget-me-nots replaced the German freemasons’ square and compass insignia as a way to avoid persecution. Poet Keith Douglas has also written a poem entitled “Forget-Me-Not” to memorialize a fallen German soldier.

Symbolism and Meanings

The symbolism of forget-me-nots is particularly powerful in Christianity because so many legends associate it with God, creation, and Jesus. One legend has it that while sitting on Mary’s lap one day, the child Jesus said He wished all future generations could remember her eyes. He then touched Mary’s eyes and waved His hand over the ground, causing small blue forget-me-nots to appear.

In numerology, forget-me-nots represent the number three. They are associated with expression, joy, and verbal aptitude. The forget-me-not could also be said to symbolize prudence and a lack of greed, considering that one legend says a traveler found a cave of treasure after plucking a forget-me-not, which he had never seen before, from the side of a mountain. Upon seeing the treasure, he dropped the flower and forgot it. The mountain holding the cave closed, and the treasure was lost and forgotten, as well.

The forget-me-not became increasingly popular as a love token after the Middle Ages, when people began to shift their relationships onto a more personal plain. Relationships were not always decreed before God during this time, so there wasn’t as much emphasis on ecclesiastical responsibility. Instead, the emphases of the relationship included love, friendship, passion, and vitality. In flower arrangements and jewelry designs, the forget-me-not became a sort of “filler flower,” balancing against other flowers or leaves such as ivy leaves, various vines, and larger, more vibrant flowers such as carnations.

In the nineteenth century, the forget-me-not became more popular as a focal piece of jewelry and flower arrangements. Not surprisingly, it is commonly used as a central part of mourning pieces such as lockets or brooches. During the nineteenth century, the forget-me-not was also paired with serpents or crosses in art or jewelry design, hearkening back to some of the religious tales about its origin.

Photo Credit: Photographer Hans Braxmeier (Hans) offered the photograph of Forget Me Nots under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

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