Today I decided to focus on the name of this lovely flower. You might be surprised to hear that its name actually derives from the name for a completely different flower, and that it is actually hard to find early references to the Narcissus, or the flower that we know today by this name.
The name can by found in the 1400s in Middle English as affodil, affadil or affedil, although it generally referred to the asphodel plant, and the first citation thought to be the daffodil comes much later, in the 1590s.
Here is an example from 1400 in Lanfranc’s Complete Art of Surgery, or the Chirurgia Magna:
An hory wounde shal be heelid..wiþ poudre of affodill.
Here it is referring to the asphodel. It is not clear where it gained the initial /d/, but there are two main theories. The first is that it comes from French, in which case it would have been d’asphodel > d’affodell > daffodil.
The other theory, with a similar process of evolution, is that it comes from Dutch de affodil. This theory is supported by the fact that the Netherlands was an important source of bulbs of both daffodils and asphodels, and indeed one theory is that the similarity between the bulbs could have led to the confusion over their names.
The name of the asphodel did not start its life in Middle English, of course, it came from Medieval Latin affodillus, which goes back to an earlier Latin form; asphodelus. This Latin form in turn came from the Greek word ασφόδελος (asfodelos).
Unfortunately, we are unable to trace its meaning further, as it did not come from known Greek components, but rather is thought to have been a loan-word from a pre-Hellenic language now lost to us.