You are here: Home » Flowers » The language of flowers

Sweet William

E-mail Print PDF



The botanical name is Dianthus barbatus. There are a number of unverified stories about the origin of the common name, sweet William. It may be after William Shakespeare, who was a contemporary of the English botanist John Gerard who referred to Dianthus barbatus as "Sweete Williams" in his garden catalogue of 1596. It is also said to be named after Saint William of York or after William the Conqueror. Another etymological derivation is that william is a corruption of the French oillet, meaning "little eye". Sweet William is a favourite name for lovelorn young men in English folkloric ballads, e.g., "Fair Margaret and Sweet William."


Southern Europe