From Where I Sit – A Hazel by Any Other Name

Julia Roberts’ twin daughter notwithstanding, Hazel is an old, uncommon name.

An Internet search for the word Hazel netted over 1.5 million items. Hazel is a botanical, old English name meaning the hazel tree. It was popular from the 1870s to the 1920s. No wonder all of the Hazels I see are in the obituaries! Little did I know that since about 1997, the name’s been gradually gaining in popularity. The Baby Name Wizard (2004) Internet site insists that “Hazel has been a stylish favorite in the elite urban neighborhoods where artistic sensibilities and high incomes meet.” Take that, all you baby boomers who only remember a maid, a medicinal remedy, a pop song, a line of office supplies, or a hurricane.

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with my name, especially when I moved to a new school in grade three. A dopey boy in class was fond of calling me ‘hazelnut chocolate bars,’ not exactly an inspired insult. I was extremely mortified by the bossy maid who appeared in a weekly sitcom. Not exactly a career choice to aspire to. From 1961 to 1966, Shirley Booth starred in this show that hit the number four ratings slot. Beginning in 1943, there was also a Hazel comic created by Ted Key. After syndication, readership peaked at more than 29 million readers.

The bark and leaves of the witch hazel are used as an astringent, ointment or poultice for the treatment of varicose veins, haemorrhoids, diarrhoea, eye inflammation, stings, burns and bruises. Can’t say I’ve ever tried it. These fifteen-foot trees are found from Nova Scotia to Georgia.

By the time a long-time customer of my flower and gift shop began greeting me by singing a line or two of “Hooray for Hazel” I had made peace with this old-fashioned name. Hell, years ago, the band at the Rosslyn Hotel tavern performed the song for me after one of my companions requested it. Research tells me the song, written and performed by Tommy Roe hit number six in 1966.

I don’t know the story behind the line of Hazel office supplies, but I do have one of their black portfolios with brass corners. In its latest incarnation, the Hazel portfolio stores the documents I need when I meet with couples wishing to be married. It has served me well.

The decidedly most violent connotation of the name Hazel is the 1954 hurricane that hit southern Ontario on October 15th and killed more than 80 Canadians. Apparently, there is a considered process for the naming of hurricanes and now even male names have that dubious distinction. My dad was fond of referring to his three girls (Hazel, Sherry, and Gail) as a nut, a wine and a storm.

There’s no exciting story about how I came to carry this name other than my mom liked it. Love it or hate it, our name is the most personal gift we receive. Ultimately, it’s also the only thing we take from cradle to grave. Do we bring honour or shame to it? The choice is ours, from where I sit.

Baby Name Wizard (2004, December 28). Retrieved from

*reprinted with permission