Gemma: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 10, 2012

English: Gemma Ward at FashionWeekLive in San ...

English: Gemma Ward at FashionWeekLive in San Francisco, March 15, 2007 Photo by Jesse Gross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 29, 2008 and substantially revised and republished on December 10, 2012.

You love Ruby but he prefers Jade. Why not go with the ultimate jewel of a girl’s name?

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.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

No. February 7, 2014 at 6:45 PM

The dictionary definition of “gemma” is “an asexual spore.” So, no.

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Barbie May 7, 2013 at 9:39 AM

We named our second daughter Gemma Belle and I do love the name still (she is 3 now). She has a sparkle in her eye and it suits her. For the sake of honesty though, I will express that I’ve been frustrated with people mispronouncing her name after they read it on paper (they use a soft G and opposed to a hard G on occasion). Also, here in America I see it spelled incorrectly (at least for the way we chose to spell it – in the traditional Italian/British style) more often then correctly if they have only heard the name (Gema or Jemma or Jema). I often get compliments but it is lost on some people. I appreciate that it is uncommon, but I have heard it is on the rise because of a show on TV I’ve never seen (Sons of Anarchy or something of the like). We call her Gem or Gems or Gemmie for nicknames and I love the sound of all of them. I often tell people just to call her Gem since they don’t understand what I am saying or look at me with confusion when I say Gemma. She is often called Jenna by mistake as well because it is a more common name. So, all that to say, I adore her name but if I could do it again I may just go straight to Gem to avoid annoyance in her life. I’ll be interested to see how she bears it, whether with annoyance or embracing it’s uniqueness and beauty. Or perhaps she may just move to Italy or England and join the masses of Gemmas there. :-)

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Havoye December 10, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Gemma was a top contender for our daughter and I think it would have suited her just as well as the name we chose (Marianne). I really like it paired with a solid classic, e.g., Gemma Catherine, Gemma Elizabeth, Gemma Rosalie.

I had no idea its growth curve in the US was so sharp! I saw a t-shirt with something about Gemma written on it the other day and didn’t get the reference until I read about the Sons of Anarchy show, which I haven’t seen. A hit TV show can definitely give a name a boost, even if the character it’s bestowed on isn’t all that savoury.

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Photoquilty December 10, 2012 at 8:37 AM

One of my faves.

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Nessa September 24, 2009 at 7:56 AM

I’m writing this about nine months later because I’ve finally gotten my husband to agree to Gemma! I’ve been working on it forever and he finally realized (or admitted) that he loves it! It’s agreed upon as our future daughter, I’m so excited! Lol.

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appellationmountain September 24, 2009 at 1:22 PM

Oh how fabulous! Gemma is a great name.

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Kate January 2, 2009 at 4:27 PM

I’m pretty nonplussed about Gemma, I’ve never given the name any thought which is probably down to her fairly popular status in the UK as has been pointed out. Even if I put that aside, I’m still not a huge fan of her – as has been mentioned she sounds quite childlike and because of that I have a job to take her seriously as a given name.

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Lola January 1, 2009 at 8:18 PM

Yep, Shannon, three syllables. Makes me want to weep. I’ve heard Gianna in Italian and it’s lovely. In Yank it gets slaughtered. :(

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Shannon December 31, 2008 at 3:59 PM

I like Gemma. I agree it fits with the current trends but sounds fresh because it’s rare in the US. I think it ages well… I don’t associate it with any particular age, probably because there are so few people here with the name. Lola, how do people pronounce Gianna? I know how it would be said in Italian but do people say “jee-ANN-a”?

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appellationmountain December 30, 2008 at 9:41 PM

Oh, and Gemma Valentine ___? Gorgeous!

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appellationmountain December 30, 2008 at 9:41 PM

Lola, I wondered if you’d consider Jemma as a nickname for Jemima! In that case, I think the J is just fine.

It’s interesting to read the reaction that Gemma might not age well. I hadn’t considered it, but that’s a fair point. Then again, the nursing homes will be filled with Jennys a generation earlier, so maybe it won’t sound so strange after all.

I can see Gemma as a nickname for Imogen, mostly because in the US, both names are so rare that few of us would catch on that it’s a stretch. In a place where both names are more popular, it might present a challenge. Or not. My sense is that people generally call your children whatever *you* call your children. It’s not like toddlers are regularly asked for ID. :)

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SophieGray December 30, 2008 at 3:36 PM

I do quite like Gemma – though I can’t see her on someone older than 40. Anyway – she has a beautiful bouyant / sunny feel to her which draws me in! She’s rather common down here in Australia – I know one who’s 16, two who are my eldest’s age (around 4), and one – a Jemma – who’s in my mother’s group for the twins (born in June).

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JNE December 30, 2008 at 2:13 AM

I like Gemma. We might use it as a nickname for our Imogen (yes, it’s a little stretch, but that’s OK with us)… I don’t love it. Maybe because I have a jewel name and I don’t want it to even appear to her that I’ve named my girl for me – we certainly did not! But it’s a cute nickname. As a full name, I’m not as sure… I don’t take it seriously… so maybe if the child ends up in the arts, that’s fine, but in the business world, Gemma doesn’t work for me. I worked with a Gemma in the UK – she was a lovely girl, but looked like a barbie doll and kind of acted a little on the girlie-girl side. So the name has that bubblegum pink association with it for me. Love it as a nickname, not as sure as the full first name for me… I do like the Italian association too! I hadn’t thought about that – I encountered the name in the UK, so just associated it with England previously.

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Sharmila December 30, 2008 at 1:57 AM

Yes! I’m so happy to see Gemma featured here. She’s one of my absolute favorites. I love the British-ness of it (my family is very British so I have a fondness for British names in general, especially Gemma and similar Phillipa and Jemima). It’s so fresh and always excites me. I really love her!

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Lola December 29, 2008 at 9:09 PM

I have a fondness for Gemma but would probably use Jemma, as a nickname for Jemima. My Pop was a Jeweler, specialising in watches and diamonds, in particular. So Gemma rather reminds me of him. Oooooh, Gemma Valentine __ maybe? Gemma beats the mispronounced Gianna in my book. Very nice, Gemma! I find her refreshingly lovely. But my heart loves Jemma for Jemima far more.

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Nessa December 29, 2008 at 7:16 PM

Gemma is one of my very favorites. I knew a girl named Gemma once and she was SO cool… I really can’t imagine someone named Gemma not being awesome. It’s had so many interesting bearers! I like that it sounds really new and fresh, but has such a long history as an actual name. She’s sweet like Emma, but the G makes her so hip and fun. Few names pack such a punch, and in so few letters! I normally don’t like jewel names, either (except Pearl, I LOVE Pearl, and Opal… pretty much hate all the others, though), so it’s a little strange that I adore Gemma so much. But oh, I just LOVE her!

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