Bloom's surname is an English-language approximation of the
Hungarian "Virag" that his father changed after he
moved to Ireland. To conduct clandestine erotic
correspondence, Bloom has devised yet another such name, "Henry
Flower." Countless details in the novel suggest that he
cherishes his name's association with flowers, most often in
the context of romantic longing—fittingly, since flowers are a
plant's sexual organs.
Virág, which means flower, is a common Hungarian
surname used also as a female given name. It first comes up in
Cyclops, when the list of foreign dignitaries attending
the execution includes a Hungarian aristocrat with a flowery
middle name: "Countess Marha Virága Kisászony Putrápesthi."
Later in the same chapter, when Jack Power asks whether Bloom
is related to "Bloom the dentist," Martin Cunningham replies,
"Not at all. . . . His name was Virag, the father’s name
that poisoned himself. He changed it by deedpoll, the father
did." Ithaca reveals that Bloom's desk drawer
contains a newspaper cutting announcing this legal change: "I,
Rudolph Virag, now resident at no 52 Clanbrassil street,
Dublin, formerly of Szombathely in the kingdom of Hungary,
hereby give notice that I have assumed and intend henceforth
upon all occasions and at all times to be known by the
name of Rudolph Bloom."
The cosmopolitan Rudolph must have known people with names
derived from the German and Yiddish words for flower—the
Austro-Hungarian empire had many Blumes, Blums, Rosenblums,
and Weissblums—and he would have found these names much easier
to Anglicize than Virag. When he named his son Leopold, he
performed a corresponding transliteration of the given name of
his father Lipóti. The Hungarian does not evoke any close
English-language equivalents, so Rudolph resorted again to
German. The ancient Germanic name Luitbald (meaning
"brave people"), modernized over the centuries as Leopold, had
become quite common in Austria.
Bloom has perpetuated the family tradition of naming sons
after grandfathers, making a four-generation chain: Lipoti
(the proto-Leopold), then Rudolph, then Leopold (Poldy), then
Rudolph (Rudy). His grandfather "Lipoti Virag,
basilicogrammate" (Gifford and Slote translate the
Greek title as "royal secretary," Slote noting that it "is
attested in papyri") appears in Circe and holds forth
at great length, justifying his name by being an expert on
human sexuality and author of "Sexology or the Love Passion
which Doctor L. B. says is the book sensation of the year."
His introduces himself: "My name is Virag Lipoti, of
Szombathely. [Hungarians use the Eastern name order.] (He
coughs thoughtfully, drily.) Promiscuous nakedness is
much in evidence hereabouts, eh?" For a short time in this
chapter, Virag shares the stage with a fifth male Bloom, the
fictive Henry Flower.
"Henry Flower, Esq," the name that Bloom reads on
Martha's "typed envelope" in Lotus Eaters, no doubt
appears also on the printed calling
card that he has just handed to the postmistress behind
the window. In choosing this pseudonym, he has indulged an
affection for the resonances of his family name, and perhaps
also a wish to integrate himself more deeply into Anglophone
Christian society. "Bloom" still carries echoes of German and
Jewish surnames. "Flower," by contrast, goes far back in the
family records of medieval England, and some Irish people too
have borne the name.
Similarly, although the name Henry came originally from Germany it was naturalized in medieval England and Ireland and sounds far less exotic than Leopold. Heinrich means "home ruler"—a signification consonant with the "brave people" meaning of Luitbald. If there is one thing that Bloom is not, however, it is the ruler of his home. The first part of his pseudonym carries an ironic weight that is pointed up by his erotic correspondent: "Are you not happy in your home you poor little naughty boy?"
Some readers, including Vivien Igoe, see "Henry Flower" as having been inspired by a real person of that name who worked for the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1887 to 1900. Constable Flower was a burly working-class man from the countryside who would seem to fit Bloom's stereotype of policemen in Lestrygonians: "Foodheated faces, sweating helmets, patting their truncheons. After their feed with a good load of fat soup under their belts. . . . Let out to graze. Best moment to attack one in pudding time. A punch in his dinner." Bloom could hardly identify with such men or aspire to become like them in the fantasy realm of his erotic correspondence. His abhorrence of gluttony, his physical tenderness, his pacifism, his subversive politics, his memory (likewise recorded in Lestrygonians) of almost being viciously beaten by constables while attending a political protest—all these things make it unlikely that he is modeling himself on a policeman.However, Bloom's creator may well have intended to identify him with Constable Flower. If so, it must have been because this policeman was accused of a sexual crime: a young domestic servant named Brigid Gannon was found drowned in the River Dodder and strong suspicion fell on Henry Flower. A grand jury declined to indict him, but he resigned from the force in disgrace and left Dublin in 1900. (Long after the publication of Ulysses, a dying old woman confessed that she had taken Gannon's money, pushed her into the river, and framed Flower.) There may be a connection to the Bloom who is accused of unspeakable things in Circe. Joyce did not place Henry Flower, who does appear in that chapter, in any of these accusatory scenes, but he did include one detail that links Bloom's amatory persona with sexual criminality. In the moment when Henry Flower and Lipoti Virag appear together, Henry the lover briefly becomes Henry the murderer: "HENRY: (Caressing on his breast a severed female head, murmurs.) Thine heart, mine love. (He plucks his lutestrings.) When first I saw..."
Bloom's thoughts about his persona evoke something closer to
Flower Power poet Henry Gibson and the Make Love Not War
generation of late 1960s America. The lute, harp, dulcimer,
and guitar that Henry Flower variously carries in Circe
make him a comical troubadour: "(In a low dulcet voice,
touching the strings of his guitar.) There is a
flower that bloometh." The flower blooms with erotic
longing. When Bloom was courting Molly, the romantic gestures
that impressed her included the birthday "when he sent me
the 8 big poppies because mine was the 8th," and the
picnic on Howth Head when he called her "my mountain flower."
In Nausicaa he thinks that women "Open like
flowers, know their hours, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes,
in ballrooms, chandeliers, avenues under the lamps." At
the end of Lotus Eaters he sees his own sexual organ
as "a languid floating flower." Molly is entirely in
sync with this way of thinking: "yes he said I was a flower
of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes
that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun
shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I
saw he understood or felt what a woman is."
Martha Clifford loves the sensitivity implied by Henry's
"beautiful name," and she attempts to communicate with him in
the language of flowers, a tongue that Bloom seems to speak at
least a little. When he replies to her letter in Sirens
he continues the play, as shown in the list of themes at the
beginning of the chapter: "I feel so sad. P. S. So lonely
blooming." Henry's flowery sadness is informed by the
grief Bloom feels at Boylan's departure for Eccles Street. The
posy on his table in the Ormond dining room tells him that the
flower of his wife's body is opening to another man: "Light
sob of breath Bloom sighed on the silent bluehued flowers."