It’s a Rough Day to Be Named Emily

The director of Emily the Criminal said he chose the name Emily because it’s “a blank canvas” and “heroically ordinary.” Guess I must be too!

It’s a Rough Day to Be Named Emily
From left, Emily Ratajkowski, Lily Collins as Emily Cooper in Emily in Paris, and Aubrey Plaza as Emily in Emily the Criminal. Photo:Getty Images/Netflix

I cannot remember the last time I entered a room in which there wasn’t another Emily. My childhood best friend, who’s named Meagan, is convinced that Megans—in all their various spellings—will become the next generation of Karens (ironically, also her mother’s name). I work with a Jessica who, just today, bemoaned her woefully common name. I have no less than 32 Sarahs and 22 Ryans in my contacts—the latter of which recently hosted an exclusive meetup in lower Manhattan celebrating the fact that “there was always another Ryan around.” I am loath to accept that my name will never inspire the sort of mystique that a Kady Ruth or an Isabella might enjoy. Their names are conversation starters. Mine is a conversation ender.

Millennials, it seems, are having a name crisis (and perhaps a larger crisis about our generation’s place in the world). As a millennial myself, my default state of being is on the defensive. But as a millennial Emily in a sea of millennial Emilys, I am also tasked with fighting a persona that’s as bland as a stale vanilla wafer—one that was codified in a Wednesday New York Times article titled: “It’s Time to Address the Emily in the Room.” I must say, it does feel nice to be addressed for the first time in my life. Much gratitude to the Times for this momentous occasion.

Laura Wattenberg, the author of The Baby Name Wizard, and the founder of naming website Namerology, told the Times that Emilys can thank 90s parents for the baby name boom; they wanted to pivot from the Michelles and Jennifers of the 60s and 70s to something “classic and familiar.” “Everyone could spell and pronounce it, but it wasn’t terribly common [at the time],” Wattenberg said.

Fast forward 20-odd years and the name Emily is now as terribly common as a white man with a podcast and a beanie. As the Times notes, we’re in Paris, we’re criminals, and we’re getting apologies in a boygenius song—all of which justify why I feel I must always be prepared to differentiate myself in some way. Hi, I’m Emily. No, the other Emily. The writer Emily (a different Emily worked at this website in 2021). The dancer Emily (well, there are many of us, too). The curly-haired Jewish Emily who is not a very good Jew! Goddamnit.

John Patton Ford, the director of Emily the Criminal, told the Times he chose the name Emily for his titular character because it is “heroically ordinary” and a “blank canvas that audiences could project whatever they wanted onto the character.” Emily: an “unsuspicious” person who “doesn’t attract attention.” Emily: a woman doomed to the Valley of the Basics by the very name that pins down her existence.

Nice to meet you, then. My name is Emily, and I am the doormat that you step over as you cross through the entryway to your dreams. The welcome sign for your thoughtless pleasantries and the paper upon which you scribble your ideas of what sort of woman I should be. I am the sound of a wet raspberry: predictable, not totally offensive, a sound made funny out of mechanical repetition. Emily—a name that now feels inextricable from the millennial pink that once adorned alternating tiles on Your Average Influencer’s Instagram profile, the girl bosses who redpilled the babies of the 90s only to sabotage their own empires (I’ll add that there’s an Emily for that, too), and the staples of tacky millennial-hood: Starbucks tumblers, SoulCycle memberships, and skinny jeans.

Like several of the women interviewed by the Times, I, too, have considered changing the spelling of my name: Emilie, Emileigh, Amelie. Perhaps I will move in the direction of Exa Dark Sideræl Musk, and simply go by a punctuation mark like “!” Or, like Ireland Baldwin, I could use the clout of a popular country to imbue myself with a little more pizzazz.

But then I think of Shakespeare and his babbling about names and roses and lovers bound by death (I also find it ridiculously Emily of me to turn to someone as over-quoted as Shakespeare at this juncture, but alas, us basic bitches always come crawling back). Even if I were named Francesca or Apple or Iris, I’d still be this person: the same curly-haired, hyper-femme writer, and still a bad Jew.

Besides, just like the recession, our indicted former president, and the general state of the world, I had no say in what my name would be. I was a baby. My parents picked it because they loved it, and that’s all that really matters to me. But if you think there are too many Emilys in the world, kindly take it up with the boomers and leave me and my “heroically ordinary life” out of it.

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