Sunday, November 10, 2013


Actress Jemima Rooper

I was watching an episode of 'Atlantis' today, which features actress Jemima Rooper. I really like Jemima Rooper. I first saw her in the supernaturally themed series 'Hex', but if you're a Jane Austen fan you must check out a mini series called 'Lost in Austen', where she plays a current day avid Jane Austen reader who gets transported into a Jane Austen novel. Seeing her in 'Atlantis' today reminded me just how much I like the name Jemima.

Jemima - pronounced jeh-MYE-mah - is one of those underused names that most people recognise but few people know one. She's a biblical name, the eldest daughter of Job, sister to Keziah and Keren, and considered to be very beautiful. Jemima (or Jemimah) is a Hebrew name meaning 'dove'. I've read online that it technically means warm or affectionate and also accepted to mean dove because the Hebrew word for dove comes from the same origins, but as I'm not Hebrew myself I can't honestly say just how accurate that is.

It is however a very pretty sounding name, with a dash little "olde worlde" charm and a certain warmth to it. It also fits into a nice middle ground between vintage and current - nickname possibilities such as Jem, Jemma, Mima or Mimi certainly help to give it a fun and popular feel. I can't help but feel that she would be a great sister to a Tess, Arabella, Bethany or Abigail; Max, Wesley, Charles or Thaddeus.

Unfortunately though many people consider the name unusable. It's rarely heard here in Australia and languishes at the lower end of the SSA charts in the US, positioned at #3850 in 2012. It fares much better in England, where it rose to position #196 last year. It seems to depend heavily on the most common pop culture association each country has with Jemima:

  • In Australia, Jemima is entrenched in many people's hearts as a rag doll from children's TV show 'Play School', which has been essential viewing for Australian children since 1966. When I Googled Jemima, she was the number one result I received. She's beloved, yes, but it's kind of like naming your child Elmo. 
  • In the U.S. the immediate association is with Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup. The products debuted in 1889 and the trademark character derives from a stereotypical African American character that was often used in minstrel shows at the time, usually portrayed by black face performers. It's synonymous with Mammy type characters and considered to be a racist, derogatory and therefore offensive character. Hence why parents aren't flocking towards using it.
  • In England, Jemima was popular during the Puritan era (16th and 17th century). They favoured biblical and virtuous names, and Jemima with her biblical connections and symbolical meaning of 'dove' fit the bill well. Since then the best known Jemima is arguably Beatrix Potter's Jemima Puddle-Duck. While a Puddle-Duck may not be considered an exciting image to be associated with, it's not as immediately off-putting and in many ways is an endearing image. 

If after knowing about these you're still keen, keep in mind that there are also positive associations with this name. Besides the beautiful biblical Jemima, there are the real life examples of the before mentioned Jemima Rooper, writer and campaigner Jemima Khan and HBO's 'Girls' star Jemima Kirke, all London born. She's an innocent kitten character in the musical 'Cats' (interesting fact - the character was renamed Syllabub when the show went from London the Broadway to avoid the Aunt Jemima association) and a sweetly innocent Victorian era girl in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. Authors such as Dickens, Trollope and Thackeray have all used the name for characters, giving it some literary cred, too. It's generally considered to be a more upper-class name.

Like many names, Jemima has it's positive and negative connotations. It's just a shame that the one negative one is so strong that it makes it unusable for a large portion of people. Jemima is a gem (pardon the pun) that deserves to be rescued, but I can understand why parents would be reluctant to try that with their child. Otherwise it's a pretty, charming name with a great balance of fun and elegance.


  1. Jemima started charting in Australia at the same time Playschool was first shown, so the doll seems to have been a help rather a hindrance.

    I think it's a great name - very classy.

    The American issue is a bit silly, I think - Chloe and Tom both have histories as well-meaning but racist stereotypes in the US, yet the names Chloe and Thomas are both very popular in America. And on a thread at Appellation Mountain, an American respondent noted that both the Jemimas she knew were African-American!

    In fact I wonder if it's more than Jemima is seen as a "black" name in the US, which is the real issue. Avoidance of Jemima seems more racism than fear of racism, to me.

  2. I think its a shame Jemima isn't more usable. It has a great sound and nickname option Jem or Mya. But, the syrup thing in the US is kinda big deal. Also, my son has a book "Jemima Puddle Duck" that doesn't lend itself to namesakes...