What’s in a Name?

namesHave you ever thought about your name and what it means?  I do all the time.  When you think of my name, Emily, what comes to mind?  According to most websites and name books, the name Emily simply means “hard-working” or “industrious.”  (My favorite of these, behindthename.com, takes a different approach, saying its roots come from Aemilius, meaning “rival”!)  Either way, it’s been around a long time, and to most people sounds charmingly old-fashioned.  As far as famous Emilys go, Emily Dickinson or Emily Post seem to be at the top of everyone’s consciousness.

And there’s where the clichés start to take hold.  While those two most famous of Emilys are certainly interesting and admirable figures, to me they don’t exactly inspire butt-kicking awesomeness like, say, Xena, Elektra, or Raven.  (A lament my mother heard quite a bit during my teenage years, when I wanted to change my name to Zelda or Selina or the like, depending on the week.)  It’s a name designated for delicate ladies, not sorceresses or pirate queens.  But as the one-time most popular girls’ name in America, there’s definitely some room for shaking up that stereotype.

So I went on a quest to find some fictional Emilys with a little more punch.  In my search I found quite a few Emilys who get possessed and/or killed right at the beginning of the story, and whether a side or main character, it seems Emilys in fiction are destined to be unlucky in love.  I was surprised to find a few mean girls named Emily in the sidelines too.  Among the handful of heroine Emilys I found mostly bookish types, like Emily of New Moon and Lady Emily Ashton.  I could relate to them (and of course there’s nothing wrong with being bookish!), but they were reinforcing the Emily cliché more than they were breaking it.  Fortunately among these I also found one spunky half-mermaid and my current favorite, a goth inventor/musician.  We’re getting warmer.

Of course your name doesn’t dictate who you are—though some books might argue otherwise—and if you’re one of those lucky people who have always loved their name (or managed to convince your parents to let you change it), good for you!  Still, it can’t hurt to find a namesake that inspires you.  As for me, there are still plenty more Emilys to read about out there, and I’m still holding out for a world-famous rock star Emily or an Emily the Vampire Slayer!

Look at books of names here (if you’re a writer, they’re just as useful for choosing character names as for baby names!), and here are some books about names and identity.

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