Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 29, 2008 and substantially revised and republished on December 10, 2012.
Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Gemma as our Baby Name of the Day.
She’s sparkly, but she’s also a saint. She’s crisply British and alluringly Italian. For a short name, Gemma is surprisingly versatile. She was a smash hit in the UK in the 1980s, and is heard elsewhere in the English-speaking world, but is a newcomer to the US Top 1000.
Gemstone names for girls have been stylish for years. Current favorites include the mainstream Ruby and Jade, plus the up-and-coming Pearl. In our age of noun names, glitzy choices like Sapphire, Emerald, and Diamond seem more wearable today, too.
When this post originally ran in 2008, Gemma had just nudged into the Top 1000 at #889. I guessed that Gemma was “likely to do well in the next few years.” That might have been an understatement. By 2011, she was at #356. That’s a quick rise, fueled in part by her jewel box meaning, and in part by her similarity to recent chart-topper Emma.
In Latin, gemma refers to a precious stone. The word is unchanged in Italian, and may have been used as an endearment before it was a given name.
The earliest bearers of the name were Italian. The thirteenth century poet Dante Aligheri married a Gemma, though he wrote his poems to Beatrice.
Saint Gemma came along in the late 1800s. She’s known for her service to the poor and, controversially, for experiencing the stigmata – bleeding from her hands and feet, in memory of the crucifixion.
Stargazers might know that Gemma is also a traditional name for the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis. Today it’s more properly referred to as Alpha Coronae Borealis. The constellation’s name means “northern crown” and was said to represent a crown Dionysus gave to Ariadne.
Speaking of stars, there’s a cluster of young models, dancers and actresses with the name, including Gemma Arterton (seen as Bond Girl Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, as Io in Clash of the Titans, and as Tamina in Prince of Persia), model Gemma Ward and ballerina Gemma Bond of the American Ballet Theater. A bit on the more seasoned side, Gemma Jones is a British actress who played Bridget Jones’ mum and Hogwarts nurse Poppy Pomfrey in the Harry Potter franchise.
There’s also Jemma Redgrave, of the acting dynasty. Jemma has followed Gemma into the US Top 1000, currently ranking #832.
You might also recognize the name from:
- Ida Lupino played Gemma opposite Errol Flynn’s composer Sebastian in 1947’s Escape Me Never.
- Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy stars the powerful schoolgirl-sorceress Gemma Doyle.
- Katey Segal plays tough-as-nails, beloved matriarch of the Sons of Anarchy, Gemma Teller Morrow.
- A recurring character on canceled CW series Ringer also answered to Gemma.
Besides the high-profile uses, Gemma fits with popular names like Stella and Maya, as well as Italian-esque picks like Sophia. If you want your daughter’s name to stand out while fitting in, Gemma is one to consider.