What Do Carnations Mean?

5 min read

Carnations are flowers that have a deeper meaning than what their external beauty shows.  Scientists believe they were first cultivated over 2,000 years ago near the Mediterranean Basin. When they were first grown, they were largely used as ceremonial flowers in Greece, Italy, Spain, and neighboring countries. Today, the flowers are found all around the world and in a wide variety of colors that include red, pink , and white. In this article, we are going to take a closer look at the carnation’s meaning and symbolism. The origins of the flower are quite remarkable.

You are going to learn the following:

  • The origins of the carnation name
  • The significance the flower has today
  • What popular carnation colors symbolize

Origins of the Name

There are multiple theories on how the carnation received its name. If you believe the Ancient Greeks, their scholars claim that the word comes from “corone.” These were garlands that were used in Greek crowns for ceremonies and rituals. The Greeks used these flowers in everyday life, and they were even mentioned in their literature thousands of years ago.

Greek mythology tells the story of Diana the goddess of the hunt. She met a shepherd while on an uneventful hunting trip. The shepherd was playing a flute while he tended to his flock, and Diana blamed the music for ruining her day of hunting. Diana was full of anger when the shepherd didn’t seem to have concern for her lack of kill. Of course, Diana did not like this and plotted her revenge. She took the poor boy’s eyes out of his head and threw them on the ground. The eyes took root and grew into the dianthus flower. Dianthus is the genus name of the carnation.

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Another hypothesis on the carnation’s name origin comes from the Latin word “caro.” This is a variation of the word “flesh” and refers to the carnation’s genuine color when it was discovered long ago.

A second Latin belief states that the name was derived from “incarnatio.” This word means “incarnation” and is a reference to the incarnation of God who was made into flesh.

Significance of Carnations Today

As you can see, the carnation’s beginnings were already rich with history. Today, the flower has evolved to mean love, allure, and distinction. In certain countries, the flower has significance that is still powerful today. Here are just a few countries that continue to celebrate this well known flower.

NetherlandsIn the Netherlands, the white species of the flower represents the country’s veterans who fought and died in World War II. Although the Netherlands initially resisted being a  part of the war, it was eventually invaded by the Germans and had no choice but to defend the borders. The Dutch now wear the white flowers during ceremonies to remember their brave soldiers.

FranceThe French use purple carnations in their funerals because they are long lasting and give off a subtle fragrance. The flowers are often placed on caskets and the tombstones of the deceased.

KoreaIn Korean culture, they use the carnation as a means of fortune telling. They believe that if they put three freshly cut flowers on a young girl’s hair, they can tell her future. The fortune teller looks to see which carnation dies first. If it is the flower that is on top of the others, it means her life is going to be hectic and full of bad fortune. If the middle flower dies first, it means her younger years are not going to be good for her. If the lowest flower dies before the others, she is going to be facing many obstacles in life.

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ChinaIn China, they use the carnation in weddings. The bloom represents innocence and beauty and can be seen in the bridal bouquet and in the ceremony. This flower is the most used plant in Chinese weddings. Brides tend to prefer the white or pink flowers to adorn their wedding day.

United States—In the U.S., the flowers are now the official bloom used for Mother’s Day. Teenagers can also be seen using carnations during prom. Boutonnieres and corsages can be seen in all colors. Also, if you were born in January, you should know that the carnation is the official birth flower for that month.

Australia, Italy, and PortugalIn various countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the red carnation is used to represent the labor movement and those who support a socialist platform. Festivals and celebrations are adorned with these stunning blooms during the mid-spring holiday.

Colorful and Full of Symbolism

Carnations come in a wide range of colors. Each hue has its own distinct meaning that we are now going to explore further.

White—White carnations represent love, virtue, and innocence. These flowers can be given to someone you like or admire. If you want to wish someone luck, you can use white carnations too.

Red—Red carnations can come in a light tone and a darker one. The lighter color signifies respect and admiration. These can be used to show appreciation to a mentor, teacher, or someone who has made an impact on your life. A dark red carnation represents love and care. A perfect time to hand someone a bouquet of deep red carnations is on Valentine’s Day.

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Pink—A pink carnation expresses thanks and appreciation. Giving this flower to someone like your mom or caretaker is the perfect way to show how grateful you are.

Yellow—Yellow carnations have a more negative meaning to them. They signify disappointment, rejection, and heartache. Unfortunately, the sunny color doesn’t translate when it comes to significance.

Carnations remain as a favorite for many flower lovers. They have a unique look that is not duplicated in any other bloom around the world. The clean and light aroma that comes from its petals is a trait that is welcome in any garden. This classic bloom has been a mainstay in different cultures around the world, and for good reason. The long lasting carnation has been here for thousands of years and is undoubtedly going to be around for many more!

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