The tulip may be a Turko-Persian flower, but that’s not how the Turks or Persians refer to it. They call it “lâle.”

So what’s the origin of the word “tulip”?


“Tulip” and “turban” are doublets, or words having the same etymological origin.


“Tülbent” is the Turkish term for turban, which in turn derives from the Persian term “dulband.” “Turban” first finds mention in the English language in 1561 in the papers of the English traveler to Persia, Anthony Jenkinson, who refers to the great Khan’s headdress as a “tolipane.”

The first mention of the word “tulip” is found in a letter dated 1554 written by Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, a diplomat sometimes credited with bringing the tulip to Western Europe, according to whom the Ottomans called the flower “tulipan.” Later in the same paragraph, he shortens the word to “tulip.”

“Tulipan,” “Tolipane”– you see the connection.

Did the Turks call the tulip “tulipan” because its overlapping petals resembled a turban? That’s what the herbalist John Gerard (ca.1545-1612) claimed.

The story I heard on the ground, however, was that it was more a case of something being lost in translation.