People have been reciting famous nursery rhymes to their children for centuries. According to readingrockets.org, some of them are just as enjoyable for older children as they are for younger ones.
However, the meanings of nursery rhymes are not always clear. They all sound very innocent and cheerful, and yet the meaning that is behind some of them is very questionable.
In fact, some of them should never be heard by little ears at all. There are actually a lot of nursery rhymes that are said to be based on some very mature themes, some of which even include serious themes such as illness. There are many times during which the meaning behind a nursery rhyme is a lot bleaker than some parents think.
20 Three Blind Mice
Three Blind Mice sounds like an adorable nursery rhyme for kids, but the story behind it is entirely too mature for little ones. According to rhymes.org.uk, Three Blind Mice is about a few people who were accused of plotting against a person who was very important at the time, which had some extremely serious consequences. The first written version of this nursery rhyme dates all the way back to 1609.
19 Mary Mary Quite Contrary
The rhyme actually centers around someone who had a bad reputation in real life. Also, according to rhymes.org.uk, the “garden” that is mentioned in it is a reference to a graveyard, which is pretty dark for a children’s nursery rhyme.
Also, the silver bells and cockleshells that are mentioned in the rhyme are references to instruments that were used to complete some very dark tasks. Despite the fact that this rhyme does not sound very dark, it is much too mature for young kids.
18 London Bridge Is Falling Down
This is a nursery rhyme that parents have been teaching their children for a very long time. However, very few of them actually know much about the history of this rhyme
According to historicmysteries.com, there are several theories about what it is based on. For example, some believe that this is a reference to a tragic fire that took place in London.
17 Jack And Jill
Jack And Jill is a rhyme kid have been learning for a while now. According to pressreader.com, no one knows the meaning behind it with one hundred percent certainty.
Nevertheless, there are two very likely theories behind it. One of them centers around two historical figures who did not live very long, which makes quite a bit of sense. The other one is about a couple who became pregnant shortly before something dark happened. Also, Jack and Jill have often been used as generic names for boys and girls in stories.
16 Ring Around The Rosie
Ring Around The Rosie is one of the most popular nursery rhymes of all time. But the meaning of it is still kind of up in the air.
According to sporcle.com, some people believe it is simply about some people singing and dancing around a rosebush. But another theory suggests that this is a reference to a very well-known plague that occurred long ago.
15 It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
Not much is known about the origin of It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, but some people do have an idea of who it might be based on. Other than that, there is very little known when it comes to the history of this nursery rhyme.
However, what makes this such a dark thing for children to sing is the fact that it talks about an old man getting hurt, according to rhymes.org.uk. This is not a very pleasant rhyme for the little ones.
14 Humpty Dumpty
Usually, when people talk about Humpty Dumpty, they think about a fragile egg. However, that is pretty far from what the truth, to be honest.
According to knowledgenuts.com, the subject of this story is actually a cannon that was being used in a war. During a battle, it fell and was not able to be recovered, which was probably the inspiration for the lyrics that claim Humpty Dumpty fell apart and was not able to be put back together.
This is not as strange as some of the other meanings of certain nursery rhymes. But war is still a pretty heavy topic for kids.
13 Baa Baa Black Sheep
This little rhyme may sound like an innocent one that is meant to teach children about sharing, but many people believe the story behind it has much to do with poverty. According to historyanswers.co.uk, this rhyme is thought to be about money, and how much wool cost a long time ago.
The lyrics indicate that shepherd boys were left with no profits from wool, which inevitably means they would have been quite poor. This is rather dark for a children’s nursery rhyme, and yet it still seems very popular.
12 Pop Goes The Weasel
Nearly everyone knows this nursery rhyme. But the lyrics are pretty cryptic, which means that very few people know what it really means.
According to io9.gizmodo.com, this rhyme is about someone who trades their coat for money so that they can survive. In other words, this nursery rhyme is much more depressing than it sounds.
11 Goosey Goosey Gander
While it’s hard to tell what some nursery rhymes are about based off of the lyrics alone, this one is a bit different. Some of the lyrics in Goosey, Goosey Gander make the dark meaning behind it very obvious. The rhyme is basically about someone who was caught in a rather compromising position right before something rather unfortunate happened to them, according to bbc.com.
10 Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush
Typically, nursery rhymes are associated with fun, positive things. Children tend to enjoy them very much, and they help kids learn a great deal about how language works.
But some are very dark. A great example is Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush. According to mentalfloss.com, this is about female inmates who used to exercise near a mulberry tree.
9 Georgie Porgie Pudding And Pie
This one sounds a bit weird, even without knowing any context behind it. But the meaning of it just makes it even more strange...
According to cracked.com, this rhyme is about a very important historical person who was caught up in a mature situation that was, honestly, much too mature for a children’s nursery rhyme. When certain people got tired of him, this person gave up a pretty important position that he held, hence the last line of the rhyme, which states that Georgie ran away.
8 Old Mother Hubbard
This rhyme pretty much just sounds like it is about a dog who wants a bone, but yet he could not have one because the cupboard was empty, indicating that there was no bone to give him. But apparently, there’s much more meaning to the origin story of this nursery rhyme.
According to rhymes.org.uk, this was written about a historical figure who was upset that he could not leave his wife. The “cupboard” is a reference to a church, and the “bone” is the divorce this person was seeking.
7 Rock-A-Bye Baby
There are a lot of theories about the origin of this nursery rhyme, and what it means. But the lyrics do seem pretty self-explanatory.
According to nurseryrhymesforbabies,com, there is one theory that suggests a little boy witnessed some mothers rocking their babies in cradles that were placed in trees. However, another theory suggests that it was written about how someone can easily fall from a position of power. Those theories are not as bad as the ones about some other nursery rhymes, but the lyrics are a bit disturbing anyway.
6 Oranges And Lemons
Because of the last three lines of this nursery rhyme, some people believe that it was about a certain historical figure who had an interesting way of dealing with marital problems. But, according to bbc.co.uk, those lines were not part of the original version of Oranges And Lemons.
But there are some other lines in it that some believe are a reference to a very dark time in history. Let’s just say that these lines are about some incredibly dark things certain people went through long ago.
5 Lucy Locket
The true origin of this one is not known for sure, but some people do have their theories. Apparently, one of the theories suggests that the story is about two women who were involved in a rather questionable field of work.
Supposedly, the “pocket” is a reference to a man that one of them was interested in until he ran out of money. After he ran out of money, the story claims that another woman took an interest in him, according to historyanswers.co.uk.
4 There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe
The origin story of this one is certainly unclear. But one thing about it is that is very obvious is that it is about a person who had a lot of children whom he or she did not treat very nicely.
There are many different versions of There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, and some of them even talk about how she went shopping for a coffin, which isn’t exactly something we typically read about in stories aimed at children. Also, according to ncregister.com, another name for it is The Little Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe.
3 Little Jack Horner
This one might make some children hungry. That’s because the lyrics to Little Jack Horner mention metaphors such as pies and plums.
But in reality, it is said that there is much more to this nursery rhyme than someone feeling lucky because they found a plum in a pie. According to npr.com, this rhyme is about someone who was entrusted to deliver title deeds to another person as a bribe, and yet he took one or more of them for himself. This is not exactly a good story for kids, since it’s about lying, bribery, and stealing.
2 This Old Man
Like many other nursery rhymes, This Old Man is a reference to a very dark time in history. It is about a time when a large group of people in a certain area of the world went through a very tough time during which some of their food was unable to be eaten.
Like the old man in this story, these people ended up having to go door-to-door, selling things in order to make money. According to learnarhyme.com, they were usually told to leave.
1 Ladybird, Ladybird
The lyrics to this one already do not sound very pleasant. But the meaning behind them makes this nursery rhyme even stranger.
According to ncregister.com, Ladybird, Ladybird also has another name, which is Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home. It is apparently about a group of people who did not follow a certain law that used to exist long ago. In addition, it is also about the consequences they had to face for choosing not to abide by that law.
References: Reading Rocket, Nursery Rhymes And Lyrics Origins, Historic Mysteries, Pressreader, The Sporcle Blog, History Answers, BBC, MF, Cracked, Nursery Rhymes For Babies, National Catholic Register, NPR, Learn A Rhyme, KnowledgeNuts, Io9