Over 19,000 Americans named their daughters Emily in 2007. But not even 200 used the modern masculine form – at least not the most common English version.

Thanks to Sophie for suggesting Emil as Name of the Day.

Emil ought to be on our minds. Putting aside Emily’s super-charged stay at the top of the charts, there’s Emile “Speed Racer” Hirsch and Remy the rat’s brother Emile from Ratatouille.

Instead, Emil last visited the US Top 100 back in the 1880s, and has n0t appeared in the rankings at all since 1984. Add an -e and the name has been flirting with obscurity since 1962.

Emil and Emily are just two of the popular names derived from the Roman Aemilius, one of the oldest – and most important – of the Roman patrician families. Related girls’ names Amelia, Amelie and Emilia have all gained favor in recent years.

Many baby name guides will give the meaning “rival” for all Aemilius-derived monikers. However, Aemilius also shares origins with the word “emulate.” I’m guessing that the noble clan inspired plenty of imitators.

While the homespun Emil and just-a-smidge fancier Emile are rare, the name has been worn by a few notables, including:

  • A former drummer for punk band Black Flag, Emil Post;
  • The reform-minded former Romanian president, Emil Constantinescu;
  • One of the founders of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim;
  • Literary powerhouse Emile Zola – who was named after his mother, Emilie.

Throw in Swiss, German, Bulgarian, Czech and Austrian bearers of the name and Emil emerges as a charmingly pan-European choice. The Roman Catholics acknowledge a half dozen Saints Emilian, so it is no surprise the name travels well. In Spanish and Italian, he picks up an -o and becomes Emilio or Emiliano.

In fact, Emilio and Emiliano have fared quite well in the US in recent years, ranking #275 and #335 in 2007. Maybe a few parents were inspired by brat pack actor Emilio Estevez, but odds are this is the continuing influence of Latino culture.

Ends-in-o names for boys are an interesting bunch. Many parents are willing to use Leo regardless of their backgrounds. Some will consider Marco or Matteo. But other choices – like Diego and Sergio – feel a bit over-the-top if you can’t claim Latino heritage. Emilio seems to belong to that last category.

And so Emil emerges as an intriguing option. He’s part of a cluster of very popular given names. Unlike Emmett or Emerson, he’s not a borrowed surname. And unlike Emery, he’s in little danger of being used for girls. He stands out – and yet still manages to fit in.

Perhaps the only problem faced by Emil – and maybe the reason he’s languishing in near obscurity – is that with so many girls called Emily, his name might be mistaken for a typo, rather than a masculine appellation.

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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  1. Yeah, it can sound rather odd to break the pattern! Though I haven’t used any direct names yet, heaps of family names I love, and some are thrown around in my combos. We do have an abundance of great names – Genevieve, Aleydis, Maelle, Vera, Alice, Maeve – Emile, Henry, Leopold – off the top of my head
    Thats one instance where my mainly French and his Enlgish/Irish heritage comes in hand!

  2. Oops – I meant to say that our mum’s name is Marie-Elise Isabelle.. 🙂 and I also just realized that I rambled on heaps just then — haha, just ignore me!

    1. Sophie, I ramble every day here. 🙂

      Your family has gorgeous names – I’d be tempted to stick with the family tree, too! And I find it tricky – if you *start* out using family names, I always feel like there’s pressure to continue.

      In fact, when families don’t continue, sometimes I think the kids’ names sound even stranger – the boy is Julien Gerard IV, and the daughter is Hailey. You know – they’re just mismatched.