Thanks to Lola for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Jemima. This lovely Biblical appellation means dove, but for most Americans, all that comes to mind are pancakes.
Can Jemima ever move off the breakfast table and back onto baby girls?
While names associated with brands are always potentially problematic, Jemima has a steeper road than most. She’s been the face of pancake mix since 1899 and today, she’s found on a host of pre-packaged breakfast foods. She’s also had a makeover, and looks more like an African American version of Donna Reed than the plump, be-kerchiefed kitchen slave of early images.
This is where it gets tricky. Not only is Aunt Jemima the trademarked face of convenience breakfast foods, her name is sometimes used as a female equivalent of Uncle Tom. It’s a derisive sneer of a term, and for parents with any African blood, one can imagine this name is unthinkable.
Yet the name has legitimate Biblical roots. She was Job’s firstborn daughter, a reward after his faith through sufferings. The Hebrew source of the name – yemimah – literally translates to dove, so there’s a nature-name and virtue angle to this moniker, too. It’s as peaceful as Paloma, another rare but lovely choice sharing the meaning.
Her Biblical status made Jemima popular in the Puritan era, and she ranked occasionally in the Top 1000 in the US in the late 19th century. But by 1897, the name dropped off the charts and has not been heard from since.
In the UK, however, Jemima remains a legitimate choice. Socialite and UNICEF ambassador Jemima Khan lends the name a certain posh quality. Apparently, the only well-known Jemima across the Atlantic is Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddleduck, not enough of an issue to quash the name’s appeal.
If anything, we’re a bit surprised than Jemima hasn’t been heard more in the US. With the J craze (think Jennifer, Jessica, Julia, Jasmine, Jocelyn, Jada and Jordan, plus variant spellings), a passion for Biblical monikers, the cute nickname Jem and our love of three-syllable ends-in-a names for girls, she seems like a can’t-miss-pick.
As for the brand connection? In 2007, 272 baby girls; 368 baby boys were called Armani. 313 parents named their daughters Chanel and 470 went with the upscale auto alt spelling of Alexus. Today, it’s just as likely that a luxury connection will make a name as sink one.
Of course, that’s Jemima’s hang-up. She’s not found in the pages of InStyle but on the humblest grocery store shelves.
All that said, we think Jemima deserves a second look, especially for parents interested in underused appellations from the Good Book. True, your darling daughter will take some ribbing about her sticky sweet cousin in the syrup aisle. But in fashionable circles, we suspect that Jemima will fit in just fine with the hordes of Isabellas and Olivias, Hannahs and Abigails – and stand out nicely, too.