As a generation of Emilys enters adulthood, perhaps you’ve noticed the name in the air — and on TV, in hey’re everywhere.Credit…Guillem Casasús
By guest author Emilia Petrarca from the New York Times.
Published April 5, 2023 Updated April 7, 2023
She’s in Paris. She’s a criminal. She’s the titular star of a new biopic. She’s being apologized to by Phoebe Bridgers, and she has recently made headlines for smooching Harry Styles. Turn a corner lately, or turn on a TV, and there she is: Emily.
The name has been used for centuries. It’s an evolution of the Latin name Aemilia, and the English spelling has been popularized by such historical figures as Princess Amelia in 18th-century England, who was called Emily by contemporaries, and the 19th-century poets Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. Emily Post, the 20th century’s arbiter of etiquette, added to its pedigree.
But it was only in recent history when the name, at least in the United States, had what might have been its heyday.
According to the Social Security Administration, Emily was one of the top five names for girls born in the United States in the 1990s. If you haven’t met an Emily born in that decade, maybe you’ve heard of Emily Ratajkowski, 31, or the TikTok star Emily Mariko, also 31.
From 1996 to 2007, when some 48 million people were born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emily held the No. 1 spot. In 2006, American Girl released a doll named Emily Bennett.
The eldest Emilys among those tens of millions of people are now 27. That is not only about the age of the protagonist in the 2022 film “Emily the Criminal,” but also close in age to Emily Cooper, the charming if not basic American protagonist of the Netflix show “Emily in Paris.” Cooper, as noted by Glamour, turned 29 in the second season.
The glut of Emilys in Ms. Bridgers’s life has caused problems, or perhaps fun, at least for a sliver of the online world energized by the release of the song “Emily I’m Sorry” on the new album by boygenius. Apparently she knows so many Emilys that sleuths on Reddit have tried to identify which one the song is about (boygenius declined to comment on the song’s inspiration for this article).
A Golden Age of Emily
The name’s popularity around the turn of the 21st century was an organic phenomenon, said Laura Wattenberg, the author of “The Baby Name Wizard” and the founder of Namerology, a website with a focus on names. “There wasn’t a single prominent Emily who sparked the whole thing,” Ms. Wattenberg said.
Ms. Wattenberg explained that many people who became expecting parents at the time wanted alternatives to names like Jennifer, Michelle or others that were popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Those people, she added, also avoided names like Linda, Susan and others common when their parents were born. Emily, Ms. Watternberg said, was classic and familiar. “Everyone could spell and pronounce it, but it wasn’t terribly common,” she said.
Emily Adams Bode Aujla, 33, a fashion designer, said she was named after “Emmie,” a 1968 song by Laura Nyro that her mother loved. Ms. Bode Aujla, who lives in New York, added that her mother wanted her to have “a timeless name that was sort of melodic.”
To expecting parents in the 1990s, the name Emily offered a “safe and friendly and well-liked way to step away from the crowd,” Ms. Wattenberg said. She grew up in Amherst, Mass., where an effort to rename the town has prompted suggestions including Emily, in honor of Emily Dickinson, who was born there.
An AppleTV+ series, “Dickinson,” was inspired by her; it debuted in 2019 and lasted for three seasons. A film released in February about her British peer Emily Brontë had a different one-word title: “Emily.”
John Patton Ford, the director of “Emily the Criminal,” chose the name for its protagonist because it is “heroically ordinary,” he said. In the movie, Emily starts scamming people as a way to pay off student loans, and her misdeeds escalate. Mr. Ford, 41, said that the story is about an ordinary person who begins to do something extraordinary.
He described the name Emily as a blank canvas that audiences could project whatever they wanted onto the character. Emily, Mr. Ford said, is “unsuspicious,” a name that doesn’t attract attention.
Emily Oberg, 29, the founder of the brand Sporty and Rich, said that Emily was always the nice girl in movies. “It’s not a villain name,” she said.
For the last four years, Ms. Oberg has been living in Los Angeles and Paris, where she said she gets “Emily in Paris” associations all the time. “I think it’s cute,” she said. “It’s a funny show.” (Netflix has said that Emily Cooper’s name “is supposed to be pronounced with a French accent so ‘Emily’ and ‘Paris’ rhyme”; the show’s creator, Darren Star, did not respond to requests for comment.)
What’s in a Name?
Maybe you fell in love with an Emily, and the name makes you swoon. Maybe an Emily broke your heart, and hearing the name stings. Or maybe you’re an Emilia who has been called Emily your entire life by mistake — now even more frequently thanks to autocorrect — and you’ve come to resent it a bit as a result.
Ask an Emily, though, and many will tell you they’ve never met an Emily they didn’t like, as no fewer than five interviewed for this article did. (Emily Blunt declined to comment; Ms. Ratajkowski and Emily Weiss, the founder of Glossier, did not respond to requests for comment.)
Emily Oster, 43, an economist and writer whose work often focuses on parenting, said she thinks of Emily as a name for people who are going to be friendly. “You’re not going to have a difficult phone call with an Emily,” said Ms. Oster, who lives in Providence, R.I. She added, “To be clear, I don’t think this particularly overlaps in my personality.”
Nice, of course, can sometimes be a substitute for another word — boring — which is how Emily Dawn Long, 32, a fashion designer in New York, felt about her name when she was younger. “Growing up, I was never like, I have a really rad name!” Ms. Long said. She first met Ms. Bode Aujla, her fellow fashion designer, at a vintage clothing show when someone called out, “Emily,” and both women emerged from separate dressing rooms.
As a child, Ms. Long would try out different spellings of her name, like Emilie or Emilee. “I tried to make it a little more funky,” she said.
Emilie Rose Hawtin, 36, might have gladly traded spellings when she was growing up. “I grew up in New Jersey — I did not grow up in Paris — and I was self-conscious about my name as a kid because it seemed a little foreign,” said Ms. Hawtin, who works in fashion in New York. “I’d never correct anybody who pronounced or spelled it wrong because that just seemed snobby.” Eventually, Ms. Hawtin said, she realized that the French spelling “probably makes me sound more interesting than I actually am, which I’m grateful for.”
Emily Parrish, a makeup artist in Atlanta, disliked her name growing up, too, but for different reasons. “People used to make fun of me for being an African American girl with a so-called Caucasian name,” Ms. Parrish said, so she would go by the nicknames Millie or Mil. “I felt like it didn’t fit me — like it was an old lady name.”
As she got older, Ms. Parrish, 28, noticed that her name, at least on paper, could lead to certain assumptions. She said that many times, when she is applying for opportunities, people assume that she is white, often until she has an in-person interview. Once people realize she is Black, Ms. Parrish added, some have “shown it in their face, body language or energy” that she was not the person they were looking for.
But Ms. Parrish has learned to love her name, she said. “It fits me,” she said. “I love how simple and straightforward it is.” She added, “I want every girl — every Black girl, every African American girl whose name is Emily, who feels like it’s so plain and simple and old school, to be proud about having that name.”
Sharing an Identity
Emily Hyland, 40, a restaurateur, said that a lot of people identify with the name, at least according to how many she has seen posing outside Emily, her New York pizza restaurant.
To avoid confusion with the handful of other Emilys who have worked with her over the years, Ms. Hyland has been known to wear a shirt that reads: “Yes, the real Emily.”
Emily Morse, 52, a writer and the host of a podcast called “Sex With Emily,” said that women who share her name will often call in to her show. Many, she said, like many of the Emilys born around the turn of the 21st century, are in their mid-to-late 20s.
Ms. Morse, who lives in Los Angeles, believes that incorporating her name into the title of her podcast has made the subject matter seem more approachable. “Emily is somebody that you can trust with your deep intimate challenges in your life,” as she put it. But some people have felt otherwise. “I actually got an email once from a parent saying, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself that you’re disgracing the name Emily,’” she said.
When Ms. Morse was a child in the 1970s, she didn’t think Emily was a popular name. Her mother chose it for her, she said, after spotting the actress Emily McLaughlin’s name in the credits of “General Hospital” while she was pregnant. By the time Ms. Morse was in her 20s, in the 1990s, she started encountering the name more.
At a recent yoga class, Ms. Morse was one of three Emilys in the room, along with “Emily by the door,” as her teacher referred to one, and “Emily in the center.”
“Emily is everywhere,” Ms. Morse said.
Since 2007, the name has become less popular, as others that end with a soft A — like Emma, Sophia, Olivia and Isabella — have risen. In 2020, according to the Social Security Administration, Emily was the 18th most-popular name for girls born in the United States; the next year, it fell to No. 21.
“I think that’s only because it’s become so popular that people are starting to avoid it,” said Jennifer Moss, who founded the website Babynames.com in 1996, the year that Emily began its 11-year run as the most popular name for baby girls.
Might it reclaim the spot in the future?
“It probably wouldn’t be for another couple of generations,” said Ms. Moss, who compared the name Emily to a little black dress, the type of garment that never truly goes out of style.
A version of this article appears in print on April 9, 2023, Section ST, Page 4 of the New York edition with the headline: Where Everybody Knows Your Name.