The word myrtle was first brought into the English language around the year 1400 in reference to the plant's berries, but usage didn't really take off until the eighteenth century, and it wasn't applied to the tree type until 1562. This came from the Old French word mirtile, the y being influenced by an even older ancestor, the Latin word myrtillus or myrtus in its non-diminutive form. That in turn developed from the Ancient Greek term myrtos, which still described the families of vine-like plants and shrubs we know today. The Ancient Greek word is as far back as we can trace without getting hypothetical, but myrtos has been connected to the word myrrh as coming from a Semitic word, possibly tracing to Proto-Afro-Asiatic. There wasn't much semantic change there, but Myrtle as a proper noun first started to get popular during the Victoria Era and has recently fallen out of the top 1000 female names.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.