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Living with Labels

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet."

This question posed by Juliet in Shakepeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ crystallizes the question – Is it the name or the character that identifies a flower … a person?

Certainly a name is important. It helps us identify something accurately. But not in the case of the American plant commonly called Rose of Sharon.

I recently found out that the beautiful, hardy late-summer flowering bush in my yard that I’ve always called Rose of Sharon is actually Hibiscus syriacus.

And while plants often get common names that don’t reflect their scientific names, I also discovered that the lyrical reference to Christ being called the Rose of Sharon from the Song of Solomon where the speaker (the beloved) says "I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley" (2:1) is most likely a crocus. Or a tulip. Or a narcissus.

So what is in a name?

From the beginning of recorded biblical history, we see God put an emphasis on what a person is “called.” You may be familiar, as well, that there are times when God’s people are given new names:

Abram became Abraham

Sarai became Sarah

Saul became Paul

The name expanded not just the meaning, but the calling – a term used to refer to what a person will accomplish in their life. And while you and I were given a name by our parents (our common name), there is a promise from the Bible that we will be given a new name:

“Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God.” Isaiah 62:2 (the Message Bible)

Can you imagine if you were given a scientific name…by the mouth of God?

The first part in scientific nomenclature is known as the ‘genus’ – which indicates the simplest level of collective classification. For the Rose of Sharon it’s Hibiscus, and it’s always italicized and capitalized. For followers of Jesus it is Christian.

The second part is the specific species or epithet and is always italicized and lowercase. For the bush it is syriacus. What might it be for you?

While the Rose of Sharon is neither a rose or a plant from Syria, it does have characteristics that formed its name, specifically beautiful hardiness.

In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath Rose of Sharon (often called "Rosasharn") is a major character, the eldest daughter of the Joad family and the sister of the protagonist Tom Joad. The name is said to have been chosen after the plant that survived the adverse conditions of the Dust Bowl, just like Steinbeck's character.

What’s in a name? A promise, a calling, a character.

Other interesting cultural references to Rose of Sharon:

  • "The Rose of Sharon" is one name used for the infant Christ by English poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) in his poem "To His Saviour, a Child: A Present by a Child." Herrick presumably borrowed the term from the King James Version of the Bible and other contemporary sources. The child to whom the poem is addressed offers two gifts to the baby Jesus: a flower in full bloom ("...bear this flower / Unto thy little Saviour; / And tell Him, by that bud now blown, / He is the Rose of Sharon known...") and a reed whistle.

  • In the USA, the 'White Rose of Sharon' is the official flower of Phi Beta Chi, a national Lutheran-based Greek social letter sorority.

  • In Canada, Rose of Sharon is a charity that focuses on helping pregnant and parenting young women under the age of 25.

  • Mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon, Hibuscus syriacus) is the national flower of South Korea. The mugunghwa first became the national flower of Korea during the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945) when Koreans countered colonial racial assimilation policy by planting mugunghwa nationwide as a sign of their uninterrupted dreams of independence for Korea. Therefore, the mugunghwa which regularly returns a day after seemingly having faded away became a symbol of the unbridled and unbreakable spirit of the Korean nation.

  • The Rose of Sharon is referenced in the Bob Dylan song "Caribbean Wind." The song appeared on the compilation album Biograph but was originally recorded during the sessions for Shot of Love.

  • The song "King's Ransom" from the 1986 Petra album “Back to the Street” contains a lyric in which the Rose of Sharon symbolizes Jesus Christ.

  • The song "Rose of Sharon" is on the 1991 Camel album Dust and Dreams

  • The village of Rosharon, Texas is named after the "Rose Of Sharon" from the Cherokee Roses that grew nearby.

Rose of Sharon bush blooms well in full sun

For more references go to Wikipedia.

The Hibuscus syriacus can be planted as a hedge or landscape plant. This one at right shows that the plant blooms well in full sun. (It can look leggy otherwise.)

Varieties include white, fushia or light purple flowers.

To help any bush achieve fullness, the tips can be pruned or pinched off before bloom time to encourage denser growth and fuller flower development.

Christian cynthia

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