Paulownia isn’t the easiest wood in the world to spell. Variations we’ve encountered have included pawlownia and pawlonia. The tree’s official name is even more of a mouthful: paulownia tomentosa and it was named after Anna Paulovna (1795-1865), a Russian princess.
Anna was the daughter of Tsar Paul I and was courted by many heads of state, including (if history is to be believed) Napoleon Bonaparte. Unlike many royal households of that time, the Russian royal family allowed their children to choose their own spouses and Anna decided on the Prince of Orange, who later become King William II of the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, Anna was known as Anna Paulowna and by all accounts wasn’t hugely popular with her Dutch subjects. Still, they liked her enough to name a tree after her! At first the plant was called paulownia imperialis, but over time that got changed to tomentosa…which means hairy.