Emily: Baby Name of the DayEmily reigned as the #1 name for a decade, and remains very popular today.

Thanks to Lulu for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

Emily: Not Amelia

Unravelling the threads between Emily and Amelia presents some challenges, but they’re not directly related.

Amelia comes from Amalia, ultimately from the Germanic element amal – work.

Emily, on the other hand, starts out as a feminine form of the old Roman family name Aemilius, via the masculine name Emil. In Latin, aemulus means rival.

But in real life, those lines blur.

Emily: Princess

Royalty gets credit for reviving the name in the eighteenth century.

The future King George II welcomed a daughter in 1911. Her name? Amelia Sophia Eleanor. George may have become King of Great Britain, but he was born and grew up in northern Germany. His daughter Amelia was born in Germany, too.

Her family called her Emily.

George II’s grandson ascended the throne as George III in 1760. He, too, named his daughter Amelia, honoring his aunt. Both Amelias shared the same affectionate nickname, too.

The two princesses helped revive the name in their adopted land.

Emily: Accomplished Women

The first wave of late eighteenth and nineteenth century women by the name accomplished much.

Texas gives us Emily Austin Perry. At one point, she was considered the wealthiest woman in Texas, at a time when few women owned any property. Mrs. Perry established educational institutions, helped secure railroad service, and more.

There’s also:

  • Etiquette maven Post
  • One of the Brontë sisters, the author of Wuthering Heights
  • Poet Dickinson
  • British suffragette Davison
  • Nobel Peace Prize winner Greene Balch

Emily: 1960s

While the name has never left the US Top 300, by the 1960s it had fallen from favor.

Then came 1964 movie The Americanization of Emily, set during World War II and starring Julie Andrews as an Englishwoman who falls in love with an American soldier. The movie included a title song, simply “Emily,” which became quite popular. Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra both recorded it.

The song could easily inspire parents. It tells us that the name “… has the murmuring sound of May … All silver bells, coral shells, carousels …”

We also met Emily Elizabeth, the young owner of Clifford, the Big Red Dog. The duo has starred in more than six dozen books, a television series, and may still get a full-length feature film. Norman Bidwell wrote the first book in 1963.

Emily: Name of a Generation

By 1973, the name had entered the US Top 100. In 1991, it made the Top Ten. Two dozens years later, it remains near the top of the charts, at #8.

The name remains equally popular throughout the English-speaking world.

Other spellings appear in the current US Top 1000, including Emilie, Emmalee, Emmilee, and Emely. And, of course, dozens of other Em- names, like Emerson, have risen in recent years, too.

Today, actresses like Blunt and Deschanel, songs from Simon & Garfunkel and Lady Antebellum, and fictional characters on shows like RevengePretty Little Liars, and Criminal Minds combine to make this something of an everywoman name.

All of this makes Emily an indisputable classic, as traditional and enduring as Elizabeth. The downside is that the name can feel anonymous; almost the Jennifer of the 1990s.

Today the name is fading, and probably seems ready for a rest. But it has achieved such traditional status that it will almost certainly remain in heavy use – and one day, even feel fashionable again.

This post originally published on July 31, 2012. It was revised and reposted on October 17, 2016.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I was named for the song! Born in 1981, I knew lots of Emily’s growing up that were my age or older. It always surprises me to hear it really peaked much later.

  2. I was wondering if you would ever cover my name. I love being an Emily, and I have a hard time finding any other name that would suit me quite as well. I love that it feels British, Victorian, and oh so litetary, but I also love that it is simple, sweet, and homey. Plus, it’s pleasant to say – Emily, Emily, Emily – it trips lightly off the tongue.

    Just curious: what are some of the other medieval y-enders you were thinking of?

  3. Growing up in the 80’s, it seems like there were quite a few Emilys around, but the name doesn’t feel boring, rather it feels familiar and cozy. I guess I’d put Emily in with other dainty names like Holly and Laura — Chamomile tea instead of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Some names feel timeless, instead of trendy, because they’re simply nice names.

    1. I agree with you Julie, other names that fit in that category for me are Katherine, Elizabeth, Claire, Sarah, Anne…very classic British names that seem to span the generations.

      1. Please explain what you mean. Claire is a French name. Elizabeth and Sarah are biblical names.

        1. maybe she just means commonly given to children in Britain, therefore British. If I can a name American, I don’t mean that’s it’s origin.

        2. There’s a whole category of names that I think of that feel just write with “Lady” in front of them and a hyphenated family surname behind. Lady Sarah Wyndham-Smith, Lady Caroline Hampden-Price. For me, Claire doesn’t spring naturally to mind, but I get what you mean.

  4. I love how you really tried to nail down the differences between Emily and derivatives and Amelia and derivatives, but how are you so sure? As far as I know, this is still something somewhat debated, even amongst experts? Not at all about the amal- root, or the Aemilius root, but when they each apply to contemporary uses. Is the distinction truly that black and white? Whatever. I dig that you drew a line in the sand. 🙂

    About royal names… they sometimes took names that were crown names, that weren’t even truly part of their given names, as I understand it. Could that have been a possibility with the ones called Emily in these instances?

    1. Amelia and Emily (and Amelie and Emilia) are certainly close. There are plenty of examples of two similar names converging, especially in early Norman England. In those cases, I tend to think that many centuries of use – and limited original sources and a lack of standardized spelling – make it impossible to find the line.

      For Emily and Amelia, there’s some blurring in medieval England. There are names like Emelisse in use – she seems related to Emmeline, which is a diminutive form of Amelia via Amelina, but it would be easy to get to Emelisse from Emily, too.

      Here’s the fuzzy part: if Emily and Amalia had remained in frequent use in English, I think I’d view it differently.

      But Amalia is clearly in use for generations, appearing amongst German ruling families from the 1400s. Amal is a major element in German names for centuries before, too, with clunky antiques like Amalafrida and Amalgaldis in use. (There’s a nineteenth century German name guide here. I don’t read German, and Google translate is highly imperfect, so I could easily be missing something.) There is at least one Saint Amalburga from the 600s, though she is sometimes called Amelia today.

      The first time the two are used as variant forms is with the House of Hanover. That’s recent enough that I’m confident the names have separate histories and evolutions.

      There’s some debate about the meaning of Aemilius … which is actually fascinating, because it does make Emily and Amelia share the same meaning. If you accept that “to rival” means to work hard to excel, to be a challenger, to strive, then it isn’t too far of a stretch to say that Emily means “industrious.” Our word emulate also comes from the Latin aemulus, so it isn’t an impossibility.

      On balance, I would say these are two separate names that are slowly becoming indistinguishable. Throw Emma – or Emmalee – into the mix and it becomes even more of a tangle.

      As for crown names, there are endless reasons members of ruling houses took other names over the years. At the risk of generalizing, I think it is safe to say this: whether you were a king or a commoner, at many points in history custom dictated what you named your children. There was little element of choice. Factor in the possibility of a foreign marriage, and the complications build. My favorite example is the ill-fated Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Alix was named after her mother, Alice. (Yes, Alix is medieval French, and Adelaide might have been a better equivalent – but, hey, they didn’t have Google.) Alix became Aleksandra when she married the heir to the Russian throne. And so Alice became Alexandra … perfectly logical in their moment.

      1. all this is incredibly fascinating to me. I also love learning about Emelisse, that’s very pretty! And why not add another ’emel’ name to my list? Love Alix also.

      2. That was such great input… so educated, so well-examined. Thank you! 🙂 How refreshing.