English: Emmanuelle Béart
Photo credit: Wikipedia

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?


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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. 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…..

    1. 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!)

  2. Hi!
    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!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Emmanuelle – and I’m so glad that your name has worn well!

  3. 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!

    1. 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

      1. 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!”

  4. 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.

    1. Tabitha!

      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!

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.” 😉

  7. 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!

  8. 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? 😉

    1. 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…

      1. 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!

  9. 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.

    1. Hi Virginia,

      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?

      1. 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.

        1. I love the name, too – especially its meaning – and wouldn’t mind paying the price of patience to repeat it all the time 🙂 hehee…

        2. Virginia – interesting! I’m in DC, too … And I agree, the name is flat out lovely.