We are in the mist of the Celtic tree month of Hazel, so it's the perfect time to profile this charming appellation.
This tree month lasts from August 5th through September 1st. Hazel (pronounced "HAY-zel") is an Old English name derived from the Proto-Germanic hasalaz, but it appears that the word's meaning has been lost in time. It's interesting to note that Hazel is also a variant of the Hebrew name Hazael, meaning "God sees." The Celts name for the hazel tree was coll. Hazel is associated with protection, wisdom, and inspiration. This is a good time to perform magick relating to knowledge, dream journeys, creativity, and divination.
The harvest is the time of year when hazelnuts start to appear on these trees. There are Ancient Celtic tales that tell of nine hazel trees that grow around a sacred pool. The hazelnuts fall into the pool and are eaten by the salmon, creatures sacred to the Druids. These fish absorbed the wisdom the nuts contained. One story tells of a Druid who wished to become omniscient, so he instructed one of his students to cook a salmon that he caught. A drop of hot juices splashed onto the boy's thumb, which he then sucked off. This boy, named Fionn Mac Cumhail, gained the fish's knowledge and later became one of the greatest heroes of Gaelic mythology.
The plant known as witch hazel is a completely different species. This shrub, like the tree, grows in temperate regions throughout the northern hemisphere. Witch hazel has been used for many medicinal purposes. Extracts from the bark and leaves are used for treating bruises, acne, and insect bites, and it's also contained in aftershave lotion. It is used in hemorrhoid medication because it contracts blood vessels back to a normal size. Using witch hazel to heal postnatal tearing is also common.
William Shakespeare was the first person to use this word in terms of eye color. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio teases Benvolio, "Thou wilt quarrell with a man for cracking Nuts, hauing no reason, but because thou hast hasell eyes." The color of hazel eyes is brown with green, or at least that's what they look like to me. Everyone seems to have a different opinion because they look like they shift in color depending on the light.
In America, Hazel as a name is viewed by some as being old-fashioned. It was hugely popular as a girls name in the 1890s, it peaked at #23. It took a long time to fall out of favor, which it finally did by the 1980s. But it looks like it's ready to try to take the crown again, it rests poised at #262. In other countries, as of 2008 it's #88 in Ireland, #134 in Canada, and #258 in Scotland. It was also used as a boys name in America, peaking at #540 in the 1900s. Even though society appears to have declared it overwhelmingly feminine, I find it a charming name for a boy. One prominent fictional namesake is the male rabbit and hero in the classic novel Watership Down by Richard Adams.
Hazel is a Wicca-lite name. It's a name that everyone is familiar with that no one is going to raise an eyebrow to. At the same time it has a lovely sound and a connection to Ancient Celtic culture. It would be interesting to see how it resurfaces in the namescape of the future.