Eleanor and Elizabeth are classics, while Emma and Emily have dominated the US Top 10 in recent years. So why haven’t we heard much of this lovely appellation?
Thanks to Vicki for suggesting Emmanuelle as our Baby Name of the Day.
First things first: Emmanuelle is a feminine form of Emmanuel, or maybe Immanuel. The spelling varies across time and tongue. It’s never been super popular in the English-speaking world, but you’ve almost certainly heard Manuel and maybe even Manuela. Manuel had a good run in the Byzantine Empire, and has appeared in the royal families of Spain and Portugal. Judy Garland played Manuela in 1948’s The Pirate.
It’s also a deeply spiritual name. Emmauelle’s roots are Hebrew, meaning “God is with us.” If you’ve ever heard the Christmas carol “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” you know the rest of the story. In the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, the future messiah’s name is given as Emmanuel. As the lyrics tell us, he’s to ransom captive Israel.
No surprise then, that the name has some appeal, especially in our age of borrowing from the Bible.
But Emmanuelle appeals for a second reason: she’s French. With choices like Genevieve and Vivienne all the rage, Emmanuelle feels perfectly on trend.
A handful of notable actresses have boosted the name:
- Emmy Rossum was born Emmanuelle Grey Rossum. Emmy isn’t actually French, but she was named after a great-grandfather Emmanuel.
- Then there’s César-award winning actress Emmanuelle Béart. She’s French, and most of her work has taken place in France, though a few of her films, like Manon des Sources, have achieved an international audience. That’s her portrait above.
- There’s also Emmanuelle Seigner and Emmanuelle Vaugier.
- Oscar-nominated actress Emmanuelle Riva is another notable.
- Emmanuelle Chriqui was born in Montreal. You might remember her as Entourage’s Sloan, or Lorelei on The Mentalist.
But it doesn’t take much looking to find a possible downside to Emmanuelle. Emmanuelle Arsan was the pen name of Bangkok-born Marayat Rollet-Andriane. The author penned erotic novels about a young woman named Emmanuelle. The 1959 book was banned in France – and became a sensation. It was adapted for the big screen in the 1970s, and became onthe moviee of the most successful French films of the decade.
Now here’s the thing: the movie is undeniably softcore porn. It inspired sequels, spin-offs, and rip-offs, some of which gave their main character the just-slightly-different name Emanuelle. There’s a strong association between the name and the entire category of erotic films.
It didn’t stop the French. Emmanuelle was at her most popular as a given name in 1980 – a moment when every parent must have recognized the association.
My sense is that the reference isn’t well-known in the US – at least not in 2013. She’s given to two or three dozen girls born in the US each year.
With French flair and the potential to shorten to Emme or Ellie, doesn’t it seem like Emmanuelle would wear well in 2013?
My mother’s name is Emanuela, and her father was Rosario – we are Italian 🙂
I know it would mean a lot to my mother to be honoured by middle name when I have a daughter, but also I really want to include a “Rose” name for my grandfather. My husband doesn’t want a little Rosie (also his Aunt’s name), so I’ve been trying to think of a nice combination to put both into middle name position. Finally hit on it: Rosamanuela ! Bit of a mouthful, and definitely not first name material unless we were living in Italy (in my opinion), but I’m hoping we can name a (hopefully soon-to-be-conceived) daughter _______ Rosamanuela Joy (Joy is for his mother, whose maiden name means Joy in Arabic).
Any thoughts/comments on how Rosamanuela would be pronounced in North America? Ideally, Italian pronunciation is closest to Ro-za-man-way-la…..
very happy mama says
Vanessa, I do think that “Rosamanuela” would be, more often than not, mispronounced in the States – but I usually stand by the sentiment that if you love a name, then it’s your choice!
(By the way, have you considered Gioia Rose? I think that flows beautifully and would “honor” both sides!)
My name is Emmanuelle and I was raised in the french part of Canada. When I read your comments, I really felt I had to say something. I was never teased because of my name (and since these books were french, if there’s a place where it wouldn’t be suprising to be teased about the name Emmanuelle, it should be a french speaking environement). Actually, nobody ever made any negative comments about my name, I was only told it was beautiful, especially by older people who liked its religious meaning. My name is not very common where I live, so I suppose that it must be even less common in english speaking part of the world, so I suppose it would be considered as original, cute and romantic. In a nutshell, I love my name and I am proud to bear it!
Thanks so much for sharing, Emmanuelle – and I’m so glad that your name has worn well!
very happy mama says
Tabitha, if you really want to change her name, I say go for it now before it’s too late. 🙂 It can be done – and yes, it may require a few explanations, but it will be worth it if you feel that strongly about it. Once she’s two years and knows her name, you won’t be able to change it then!
Thank you ‘very happy mama’ and ‘joy’ for your kind responses.
It was odd because just this morning I was thinking about whether I should go to Birth, Deaths and Marriages and pick up the firms to legally change my daughter’s name and then I found your message in my email inbox encouraging me not to wait to do it if I wanted to.
I have decided I will change her name to Emmanuelle and keep Matilda as her middle name so she doesn’t wonder what it means when she finds that name on her baby cards / presents etc
At the moment I call her Teddy because I didn’t like calling her Matilda so it won’t be such a shock I hope.
Thanks again and merry Christmas
very happy mama says
Incidentally, my godmother is a Mathilde. 🙂
I’m glad you’re using the name you love and I do think it’s great that you are keeping Matilda as her middle name. And now you can say, “Well, her first name is REALLY Emmanuelle, and I was using her middle name for a while, but it just isn’t sticking!”
Hi, I am the mother of an 8 month old girl. I always wanted to call my daughter Emmanuelle but was deterred by my mother saying it was a porn name and so I called her Matilda instead. I still feel sad that she is not called Emmanuelle and I’m now contemplating changing her name legally to Emanuelle which will be difficult and require a lot of explaining – so if you love the name – choose it because it is better than regretting the alternative like I do.
At first I was like your mom, thinking the name was too strongly associated with porn, even though in my friendship/acquaintance circle no one knew the association. My husband and I ended up naming our now 6-week-old bundle of joy Emmanuelle and we LOVE it! No regrets whatsoever.
I feel like if I were you and had a mom with strong opinions I would’ve also been deterred from using the name… You have good advice: don’t let other people’s opinions (especially family) sway you. If you love a name, go for it! It’s your child, not everybody else’s!
My hubby and I didn’t tell family until we announced it as official for that very reason… Once it’s set in stone, people will be less likely to give unsolicited opinions (at least to your face)… And if they talk behind your back, at least then you don’t have to hear it!
Emmanuelle is a gorgeous, meaningful name and its origins (God with us) can’t be stripped just because a pop-culture porn character exists with the same name.
Also a friend of mine had a good point: Google almost any female name and you’re bound to find something distasteful out there… And it’s true!
very happy mama says
Vicki, I just saw that your husband isn’t a fan – I was not implying that you should insist on a name he doesn’t like. 🙂
very happy mama says
PS: Another possible nickname that hasn’t been mentioned is Noelle. It is the second half of the name, after all – only one letter off, and “Joyeux Noel” is “Merry Christmas.” 😉
very happy mama says
We named our new baby girl Emmanuelle – it was always my favorite name for a girl! So romantic, elegant, beautiful and rich with meaning. We debated between Emmanuelle and Emmanuella (because my husband’s family is Italian) but I really wanted the French pronounciation/spelling.
I was born in the 80’s in the US, and had no knowledge of any – shall we say – negative connotations. I’ve only heard one person, a friend who is age 55, mention “that” connection!
I am so happy we went with Emmanuelle – I absolutely love saying it and telling people her name! If you love it, don’t let yourself be deterred!
Most importantly, we are very happy that we chose Emmanuelle for her name. Secretly, I’m hoping for the name to become slightly more popular, without becoming everyday. Maybe that’s where you come in? 😉
Well sadly I don’t think I’ll be joining you in my wished-for plan to rehabilitate it. The husband has vetoed it (kindly and with a nod to its beauty) on the grounds of the films. Apparently every person he asked (we’re in the UK where this sort of thing is ‘known’) said ‘it just means porn to me’. :-/ So I can’t really ask him to go against such a tide of public opinion, even if it doesn’t bother me. I might convince him it’s a valid middle, however…
Virginia – Well, I might come into play to make the name slightly more popular… we will see! I’m still weighing the options and seeking advice from some people (not family nor friends) that we know and trust 🙂
Vicki – sorry that you won’t be joining – but I think you could convince your hubby that it’s a valid middle for sure!
I named my daughter, born in 2012, Emmanuelle. I am 30 years old. Only one or two of my older friends have made a connection with the films, but didn’t seem to know much about them- I certainly didn’t before I researched. I think that most people have no clue about the films, and the only ones who Google the name are expectant mothers. Many more people have reacted with “Huh?!” upon hearing her name, and many others have said that it’s the most beautiful name they’ve ever heard. I tend to agree with the latter, and love that my daughter has a deeply meaningful name that sounds beautiful, too, and is replete with possibilities for nicknames in the event that connotations were to pose a problem.
Thanks so much for weighing in. True that the nickname possibilities are endless… I’m glad to hear that a mom of a similar age so recently named her daughter Emmanuelle! Where are you located? (just curious).
So, after researching and discovering the connection, you just decided it didn’t matter in the end? Or did you at some point go through a wishy-washy phase of feeling uncomfortable with the name?
How did you finally decide on it?
Joy – We live in Washington, DC. I am an ESL teacher, and before she was born, I polled the name in my classes. Not one person said anything about the film. Many, however, said that the name was ‘too masculine.’ Even after finding out about the film, I decided that the name was too beautiful to pass up, and I looove its meaning. Plus, there are a number of actresses, as the blog states, with the same name. “Like Emmanuelle Beart?” was one response I got.
More often, people simply have never heard the name, especially among my friends in the Midwest, where I am from. If a person can’t pronounce it, then they obviously have no awareness of the films. It takes a little patience to repeat the name every time we introduce her, but it’s the price you pay for a name that’s not ubiquitous – which is what we wanted.
I love the name, too – especially its meaning – and wouldn’t mind paying the price of patience to repeat it all the time 🙂 hehee…
Virginia – interesting! I’m in DC, too … And I agree, the name is flat out lovely.
I agree that people probably wouldn’t associate the films with a baby, but certainly as she grows into a little girl and young woman there’s more of a chance for the association.
In the end, I’m thinking that most people will probably call her by her nickname anyway, since it’ll be less syllables. Emmanuelle will be on her birth certificate and passport etc. but she will likely be known to the world as Emma or some other shortened version of the name, like you listed above.
That’s funny about Amelia – I didn’t know about the medical term!
So cool! I’m having an October baby, too! 🙂 Oct. 11 is my due date.
Awe, thank you, Abby!
I’ve not wanted to poll my friends/acquaintances because I really don’t want unsolicited advice from people who might taunt me with “I told you so” forever after… 🙂
If you do an unscientific Facebook poll I will be forever grateful! 🙂
I appreciate your encouragement and the very wise fact that negative associations to names can always appear after a baby’s been named, for whatever reason… Good point! I like it.
Yes I was thinking that too – you can’t predict that someone with your child’s name won’t appear in the public eye for entirely negative reasons sometime in the future!
There are a number of threads on the British site Mumsnet (not one of my favourite places, I hasten to add, it’s hardly the friendliest of communities, but their baby names group is busy) in which Emmanuelle is roundly condemned and people just say it makes them think of porn. But I can’t see how in real life anyone would look at a baby and think of the films. Children own their names, and after a while she would be the most important point of reference for everyone that mattered.
That said I still have a husband (with entirely conservative taste in names!) to convince of this anyway, so who knows what will happen! But I’m with you in wanting to bring this one back into the fold of the acceptable. And lots of mainstream names have potentially awkward associations that people aren’t aware of either: Amelia, for example, which is hugely popular in the UK, is the name for the medical condition of missing one or more limbs. Not that I suppose many people know that or think of it when making a name choice!
I am due in October by the way, so a fair few months still to think about it!
Hi Vicki – glad to hear another mom is in the same boat as me! I’m in Canada. I’m not sure what Canadians in particular would think/say about the name.
Yeah – as you say, I would hope that by the time she’s old enough to make the association, there will be other worse things to be teased about. The thing that bugs me even more than teasing is the possibility of having someone so much as look at my daughter, knowing her name, and immediately think of erotic scenes from softcore porn films. It makes me feel uneasy. I guess I just wish I knew a stat of how many people are aware of the films and would automatically make the association.
Also, I doubt it’ll stop being the first thing that comes up in a Google search, unfortunately. Who’s to stop film directors from continuing to create soft porn of that name? The latest seven were produced as recent as 2011, even though the original film came out in the 70s.
I’m so torn. I love the name, but I will always give the cons much more weight than the pros when making decisions…
Haha – true that the teasing would be predictable and perhaps easier to handle!
Well, if you come to a decision on whether to run with Emmanuelle or not, let me know! When are you due?
I’ll ask on Facebook. It’s not a scientific poll, but I’ll be curious to hear how many people mention it.
My guess is that it isn’t a familiar reference to most, but then there’s Google …
It wouldn’t stop me from using a name I really loved. Especially because negative associations can always attach after the fact.
Excellent, I will be interested to hear the results too.
I’m so glad you chose this name to discuss. My husband is in love with the name. He wasn’t aware of the softcore porn association until I told him. And, of course, I found out only a month ago by simply typing “Emmanuelle” into Google and voila! The name becomes a word not for its beautiful association to God but rather for erotic films. Makes me so sad. I am still not sure how I feel about this name after finding out about its negative associations. My husband is dead set on the name no matter what the associations are… I just don’t want to name my daughter something that will remind (some) people of porn or that will cause teasing later on in life once friends inevitably come across the association.
Can everyone please let me know their opinion?
I’ve checked other forums and most people are saying that the association to porn is too great and that they wouldn’t name their child Emmanuelle. I, however, would really like to think there’s hope to reclaim the name for the good… but maybe it’s not a good idea. I don’t know…
Joy I’m in the same boat (see above!)
I really would like to think it’s possible to reclaim this one for the good, on the grounds that no-one would associate the erotic film thing with a newborn baby, and by the time they are old enough to know about it I like to think there will be worse things you could be teased about.
Are you in the UK? For some reason the UK seems to be more sensitive to the nuances of the name than any other country. I’ve actually taught two students with the name, and worked with one (French) colleague with it, none of whom seemed to have any major problems.
It just seems a waste to condemn a beautiful name on the strength of one unfortunate association – and at least the bullying would always be totally predictable and easier to handle!
I have had the sadness of working with a horrible Emmanuel of late. I hate when people taint the name. But here in on Australia people tend to emphasize it as such. (Soft sounding) Eman…YOU(loud, stern)….(tailing off)…Elle. Ruins the name again 🙁
I know a French woman born in the 80s who had this name. Such a beautiful name! I didn’t know about the connotations. Probably wise for parents to Google before naming their child. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t know about the connotations since the film is older?
I wasn’t at all familiar with the negative connotations — maybe it’s a generational thing? (I’m in my late 20s.) All in all it’s a bit frilly for my taste, but I do think it’s a lovely name. “Nell,” as mentioned above, is a killer nickname.
You might be right, Kathryn. Though I’m 39 and hadn’t heard of the character, either. But with so many parents Googling potential baby names, it is one of the first things that will pop up …
I’m also 39 and while I don’t think I actually watched the movies, I remember them being on HBO/Cinemax back in the 1990’s…
I think Emmanuelle sounds lovely, and parents are choosing to use Desirae, Lilith, Delilah, Salome and those are better known figures… but honestly I’d think long and hard about this one.
I think this one is beautiful. It’s a shame that a name with such deep religious significance can be associated with erotic films. The same goes with Christian and 50 Shades of Grey.
It really is lovely! It’s too bad that people are deterred by the negative association. I always hate when a name becomes taboo over something pop-culturey and out of our control. I loved the name Christian for a son, but thanks to Christian Gray and his questionable recreational hobby I don’t think I could bring myself to use it. Haven’t read the book but just know that I’ll get “Ooh, like Fifty Shades?” at least once in my hypothetical future child’s life, especially with a movie coming out. Emmanuelle is beautiful, I think a parent could pull it off nowadays. If they’re rethinking Lola, Emmanuelle shouldn’t be an issue!
Thank you! A very good summary. It’s such a beautiful name, with such potential for lovely shortenings: Emmy, Elle, Ellie, Nell – and I think Manu is actually quite common in France as a nickname. Not that it necessarily needs a shortening – although it looks long it’s no more syllables than Amelia, for example, which is often left alone.
It’s a real nuisance that it has such connotations. I would love to use it and although not bothered by the original film which I think is now so dated it’s a virtual irrelevance, the fact the name is synonymous for some with all erotic film and with a certain type of girl is off-putting. That said, as you point out, it has never bothered the French!
In the UK it’s a troublesome one, but I do have a strong desire to reclaim it as the elegant name it is…
PS: I didn’t know when I emailed you, but I do now, that baby 3 is a third girl… So it’s in the running!