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The Inspiration of Emma Woodhouse

Emma Woodhouse is a very popular character in Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. She has been brought to both the large screen and small screen many times. In this clip from “Emma” (2009), she is portrayed by Romola Garai.

She has also been portrayed by Doran Godwin (1972), Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale (both in 1996).

Emma was a Top 10 name for most of the last two decades of the 19th century. Its top rank was No. 3 but it dropped to No. 13 in 1898 and stayed there through 1900. Year by year, Emma’s popularity began to dip and by 1941, it was out of the Top 100 names. In 1954, it fell out of the Top 200 and in 1961, it was No. 307!

The downward spiral began to reverse after Emma hit No. 409 in 1982. By 1987, it was back in the Top 200 at No. 177. In 1993, it was back in the Top 100 at No. 80. In 2003, Emma surpassed its previous high rank of No. 3 when it came in at No. 2. in 2008, Emma reigned as the No. 1 most popular baby girl name in America but Isabella took the top spot in 2009. In 2010, Emma was demoted to No. 3 by Sophia. These 3 names held the top 3 spots until 2013 when Olivia knocked Isabella out. In 2014, Emma reemerged as No. 1 and held the top spot again in 2015.

It’s hard to tell just how big of an inspiration and influence Jane Austen’s novel has been on parents’ choice of the name Emma, but at least part of its renewed popularity can be attributed to the TV series and films about to Emma Woodhouse that became popular starting in the 1970s

Another famous (or infamous, some say) literary character named Emma is Madame Bovary.


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