The moniker of one of Jane Austen’s most loved heroines, Emma is an old-fashioned girl’s name that’s enjoyed a revival over the past two decades. She’s never really dropped totally out of favor, but Emma has been trading the top spot for most popular girl’s name with Sophia, Olivia, and Emily since about 1995 on. There are plenty of famous Emmas, both in pop culture and in history, both real and fictional.
So why does a name that dates back several centuries (Emma of Normandy was a Viking queen of England in the year 1002) appeal to so many modern parents as the choice for their baby girl? Its history and meaning are both parts of the explanation for why Emma shows no sign of ending her reign as one of the best-loved baby names.
Emma has its roots as a Germanic name with the root ermen meaning “whole” or “universal” which is a nice connotation for a new daughter. The name traveled from Germany to England with Emma of Normandy during the first century when she married King Ethelred II and later King Canute.
The name Emma became common in England and was given a further boost in popularity by Matthew Prior’s 1709 poem Henry and Emma. That’s just one example of the literary history of Emma; Jane Austen named her 1815 novel about a well-meaning but naive matchmaker Emma.
And the titular character of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary is named Emma,
Emma has consistently appeared on the Social Security Administration baby name charts for as long as the records 1880. From the 1880s to about the turn of the century, Emma remained in the top 10 list. From 1900 until 1976 Emma continued to drop in usage, reaching her all-time low at rank #458.
She began to slowly climb the charts starting in 1977, finally cracking the top 100 names in 1992. The name crept into popular culture slowly and grew even more popular after Ross and Rachel named their baby Emma on the sitcom Friends in 2002.