Name of the Day: Jemima

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.

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8 Comments

My name is Jemima! I’m in Australia so have never heard of Aunt Jemima (even though I lived in Washington state for 5 months?!). I have a twin sister named Gretel and a brother named Barnaby – our parents were quite adventurous 🙂 I love my name!

I love Jemima, it’s just so spunky, classy, and well British. I met 2 year old twins named Callum and Jemima (they were visiting with their parents from the U.K, still don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time on this side of the pond) and I just about died. Both share the dove meaning and both have that English flair I love.

Sorry, but I don’t think Jemina would ever work for me. It is definitely a really pretty name, but everytime I hear it, I immediately think of pancakes. I do like Gemma though; similar sound without the pancake image.

Having no exposure to pancakes and being raised in an ethnic-friendly family, Jemima is all Biblical daughter of Job or Puddleduck for me, hence my love for it. 😀 I’m seriously considering Jemima on the birth certificate and Mimi for everyday. I say it’s time for her to cross the pond and begin her reign here, Jemima’s utterly beautiful and I think it would take just one pretty little Jemima to start the whole thing rolling! Anyone know a celebrity who’d be willing to bestow Jemima on their girl? It would be a stellar choice!

Jemima J was a great book by British author Jane Green. Still, I’d stick with Jemma before I’d usee Jemima.