Friday, July 8, 2016

A Brief History of Emily

Hello, readers!

It's my birthday, and I'm celebrating by talking about one of my favorite names - my own! Truly, I'm very pleased with the name my parents gave me, despite its popularity and prevalence. So here's a history of the name, as well as facts and statistics around Emily!

Despite their similar sounds, Emily and Amelia are not actually of the same origin. Emily comes from the Latin Aemilius, a Roman family name that might have derived from the Latin aemulus, which means "rival, enemy, or emulous" (thanks, DMNES!). The male form is Emil, which is used very little in the US today. I was surprised to find out that my relatively positive-sounding name had a bit of a dark side, but perhaps that's what sparks my competitiveness!

The name was not common in the English-speaking world until the eighteenth century, when the German royal family, the House of Hanover, merged with the British royal family, the House of Stuart. King George III - recently brought into the spotlight via the character in Hamilton - nicknamed his youngest daughter "Emily", though her full name was Princess Amelia. She was her father's favorite, by many accounts, and it's no surprise that the most famous Emily's known today were born in the immediate decades after her birth. 

Emily is now very much characterized by its many literary associations, based on the big three Emily's born in the nineteenth century - Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson, and Emily Post. The author of Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë was born in 1818 to a family of future writers. Though she wrote fewer published works than her sisters, her legacy and contribution to the Romantic movement was (and continues to be) majorly influential to English authors. Emily Dickinson, now a giant of American poetry, was reclusive and independent during her lifetime, achieving fame after her death and the posthumous publication of her writing. Though she only lived from 1830-1886, the poems she produced during her 55 years and her early example as a successful unmarried woman have inspired writers, feminists, and bookworms alike. Emily Post, while now synonymous with proper etiquette, actually wrote five novels and a travelogue in the early 1900's before embarking on Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, published in 1922. 

Since the United States government began recording first names in 1880, Emily has never left the top 300; it's lowest point to date was in 1962, when it ranked at #274 for girls. It's been in the top 20 continuously since 1987, and ranked #1 continuously from 1996 through 2007. Similar-sounding Emma and Italian favorite Isabella bumped it to #3 in 2008, and it's been slowly declining. As of 2015, Emily ranks at #8 in the United States, #1 in Ireland and in Northern Ireland, #4 in England and Wales, #3 in Canada, #7 in Australia, #1 in Scotland, and #5 in New Zealand. 

In American Given Names, by George R. Stewart, Emily is described as "highly euphonic", meaning it exhibits characteristics of euphony, "the quality of being pleasing to the ear" (thanks, Google!) Features of euphonic words include use of the consonants L and M, as well as more vowel sounds than consonant sounds and the use of semi-vowels, including Y. It would seem that we humans are predisposed to find Emily pleasant and melodic - hence its popularity! Other top ten favorites including Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava, and Mia have clear euphonic traits, too. 

As for middle names - it's rare that I've heard Emily as a middle, but that doesn't mean it's not prevalent (SSA, please start recording middle name data!) I'm an Emily Grace, and I've met two others; Emily Marie, Emily Elizabeth, and Emily Rose are among the more common I've heard as well. 

Now for my personal name history! I'm told that Emily was the only name my parents could agree on - my mom's other picks included Celeste or Quinn, and my dad liked Lisa or Barbara. My middle name Grace was picked mostly because my parents liked the sound, but there were a few other factors at play - my mom's name, Nancy, means "grace", and my parents had acted together in a play a few years before my birth called Amazing Grace. My younger sister (and only sibling) is Clare Elise, and I didn't realize until joining the name community what a great sibset my parents picked - all first and middles are five letters each, with English spellings of first names (as opposed to Emilie or Claire), and 7/10 of our names share the same letters. I don't think this choice was on purpose, but it does show how name preferences come through even when unplanned!

So that's the story of Emily! If you're an Emily, have an Emily, or love the name, tell me your experiences with it in the comments below. Any other histories are welcome, too! I also highly recommend checking out your own name history. This post was a blast to write!

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