European Yew berries.

“Somewhere in Germany is a stream called the Vonne. That is the source of my curious name.”-Kurt Vonnegut, the preface to his short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. Vonne, means yew, a type of tree.

  1. a coniferous tree that has red berrylike fruits, and most parts of which are highly poisonous. Yews are linked with folklore and superstition and can live to a great age; the timber is used in cabinetmaking and (formerly) to make longbows.

Vonne is a form of the name Yvonne, as is Yves. All have German roots, like the yew tree. “Yew” originally meant “brown.” So, it goes to say that the German Vonne stream had murky waters. Interestingly, the yew’s also known as Taxus Baccata, in French, this branch of trees is called “if.” Taxus comes from the same root word as toxic, which rightly refers to the berries of the tree. But if you think of the name in terms of this “toxic if,” Vonne/Yves/Yvonne all become suddenly filled with a complex and intriguing backstory.

That backstory is ancient and revered, it turns out. The name for the yew tree comes from the rune eiwaz and is sometimes associated with the myth of the world tree Yggdrasil, imagined as ash in Norse and other world culture mythologies as an important, holy tree. In Irish mythology, the yew is said to be “the Tree of Ross,” which comes from a tree of Paradise and in celtic mythology it’s known as the tree of eternity and resurrection. Read more yew stories, legends and myths here.

Yews can live 400-600 years, one of the longest living plants in Europe and is said to be the only living creature biologically capable of living indefinitely. Yet, yew wood is used to make longbows, a weapon of war, and to make the musical instrument called the lute, deepening the complexity behind the name even further.

vonnegut quote


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