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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Name to Consider: Jemima

E. writes:
I would like your impartial advice on this, as a baby name advice blogger. Most people think "syrup" and I'm aware of the slavery connotations - however my daughter will be Caucasian/Italian. We live in California, and both have college/graduate degrees. Is Jemima a quirky biblical name or still too loaded to use?

Interesting! I'm not sure! For me it definitely has an immediate syrup/slavery association (no biblical association even for this pastor's daughter---Jemima had such a tiny/brief mention), but that kind of association dims so quickly with increased usage of a name. One year it's "NOAH?? As in, THE ARK??," and then suddenly it's in the Top 10.

So let's check to see what the Social Security Administration says the usage is doing:

1996 - 27 baby girls named Jemima
1997 - 13
1998 - 14
1999 - 26
2000 - 22
2001 - 24
2002 - 18
2003 - 34
2004 - 32
2005 - 28
2006 - 35
2007 - 43
2008 - 33
2009 - 50
2010 - 32
2011 - 39

Not much, huh? Somewhat of an increase over time, but not exactly leaping up the charts.

Here's something of possible interest, however: the very similar name Jemma hadn't been in the Top 1000 since 1879 (that's how far the online records go back)---but it suddenly appeared in 2010 and 2011 at #854 and #832, respectively. The spelling Gemma has a similar story: nothing from 1879 through 2007---but then it appeared in 2008 at #889, and then for the next three years it LEAPED: #562 in 2009, #449 in 2010, and #356 in 2011.

This suggests to me that the SOUND of the name Jemima may be ready to come into style. The associations may still be too strong---or perhaps Jemima just needs a few more years and will then suddenly leap after Gemma.

What does everyone else think? Is Jemima usable now? Usable soon? Not usable in the foreseeable future? Let's have a poll over to the right, but put the reasons for the responses in the comments section. [Poll closed; see results below.]


Poll results for "The name Jemima:" (411 votes total):

I think it's usable now! - 132 votes (32%)
I think it'll be usable soon! - 58 votes (14%)
I don't think it'll be usable for a long time - 123 votes (30%)
I don't think it'll ever be usable - 80 votes (19%)
I can't decide - 18 votes (4%)

77 comments:

Martha said...

I think it is great. My husband and I just watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again after the kid went to bed (ostensibly to determine whether our almost three year old would enjoy it, but who are we kidding, we loved it) and the children in that movie are Jemima and Jeremy. So that is my first association! The Commonwealth countries love "Jem" names--Gemma is so popular in Australia and New Zealand, and so to me it reads very British. Jem is a lovely nickname and it has a great quirky, old fashioned appeal like Ramona.

SM said...

I know a 10 yr old named Jemima so I voted that it is usable now. Her dad is from the UK, so I wonder if it is more popular over there? I admit to a "double-take" when she was born, but now, like so many other "names-that-I-didn't-use", it sounds totally normal to me.

Meg @ Mr.C and Me said...

I'm in the "too loaded to use" camp. My immediate thought goes to the syrup/slavery side. I'd search for other Jem--- options if that's the sound you like. Jemima is just out of the running in my opinion.

Jen said...

I don't see it being usable for a long time...maybe until our children are having children. Too much association with slavery.

Does anyone else think the Gemma/Jemma leap is due to S0ns of An@rchy? It premiered in Sept 2008 and it's the first time I can recall hearing the name other than on a list in a baby book...

Janet said...

It sounds British to me, and has the potential to be terribly cute on a kid. I think it's a bold choice and can't see it getting big, but I find myself liking it!

Nothing But Bonfires said...

I'm British, so have no syrup/slavery associations with the name Jemima at all. In fact, I know a few Jemimas (all British too, ranging from 40-ish to toddlers) and I think it's a lovely name. So interesting how some names are so loaded to some people, though! The similar sounding suggestion of Gemma, for instance, is very popular in Britain -- and in an 80s sort of way (I was born at the beginning of the 80s and knew countless Gemmas growing up) so seems like a totally different name to me than Jemima!

Jenny said...

I think it's totally usable, though if I'm honest, in an "on someone else's baby" sort of way. But I think YOU should definitely use it.

Her peers will not have syrup or slavery connotations. And I agree about it being a bigger name with Brits and Aussies. It was my Aussie friend's girl name, but they had a boy.

I also think of Puddleduck, but that is not a negative connotation at all! Use it!

Anonymous said...

When we were trying to come up with a name for our second child, I had liked the name Jemima, but pronounced jeh-mee-ma instead of like the syrup. We would have used the nickname Jem, Jemma or Jemmie. I got too much negative feedback and decided that if so many people disliked the name, even when pronounced differently, it probably wasn't a great plan to give that name to my child. I do wish there weren't such negative associations with the name! I really do like it!

hillary said...

I was recently in a conversation about exactly this name, and had concluded at the end of it that it still wasn't usable in the United States because of the mammy stereotype. However, it has a pretty sound, a lilting rhythm, cute nickname possibilities, and a nice meaning (dove), so I think eventually it will climb the charts like Delilah has. All it will take is a catchy pop song.

I was also surprised and thrilled to meet an African-American girl named Jemima at the playground last week, as I thought black families would be particularly sensitive to the history of the name. I really hope we can move beyond it, just as the "servant girl" connotation for Abigail has gone by the wayside.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I recently started watching Girls and one of the main actresses is Jemima Kirke. Which is to say I'd never really considered it as a name, but when I saw that it was HER name, I thought, "Hmm!"

So perhaps it is ready to come back into style?

(Caveat: I believe that actress is British, and it seems from the comments that Jemima is more common in the UK.)

As a potential alternative, what about Jima?

I've heard the "i" in Jima pronounced like "eye" and pronounced like the "i" in "him" or "Jim."

AirLand said...

It sounds British to me- the only time I've heard it, besides Aunt Jemima, is in a British chick-lit novel.

I really like it and personally think it's usable. But if I were you, I would continue to ask people how they feel about it. If quite a few people think it's too associated with slavery, I wouldn't use it.

I think Gemma is really cute too!

Anonymous said...

Unless you are in the UK, Jemima is still too loaded to use, and is likely to be so for a long time. I'd stay away.

Janelle said...

I have loved this name ever since I first saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a little girl! Love, love. I would use it in an instant, and I live in California also. I don't really eat pancakes often, so the syrup thing just doesn't register.

My other association is Jemima Puddleduck, and to me, a Beatrix Potter connection is just the icing on the cake-- a nursery theme that doesn't involve a cartoon? Score!

So, YES, use it!

Anonymous said...

My first thought is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I say it's definitely usable.

Liz said...

Another option similar to Jemima is Jayma - like the actress Jayma Mays from Glee.

Anonymous said...

Someone says "Jemima," I think "Aunt." Immediately. No way it will ever not have a syrup connection for me...and this is coming from someone who has never even bought that brand.

phancymama said...

I also think it is still too loaded to use in the US, especially with that spelling. I very quietly and hesitantly suggest the spelling Gemima instead--I can't tell if that would work better or not because I've said and thought it too many times. I read a British novel with a Gemima, and made no connotation.

Patricia said...

In the 2010 (latest published) government stats for baby name popularity in England & Wales, Jemima ranks 188. The most interesting website British Baby Names chose Jemima as the name of the week in April 2011. (http://www.britishbabynames.com/blog/2011/05/jemima.html) I like the name and think it could become more popular in the USA, but that might take a pop star or star baby with the name. I think the name would work fine in certain families, but being a more conservative namer, I'd probably go with Jemma instead, maybe with "Jemima" as a pet name I'd call her sometimes.

sassafrassy said...

Although there is technically nothing with this name (look, sound, spelling) I just do not see it on a little girl. I love the Jem/Gem part of the name and think there is something there to work with. I have heard the name Gemley/Jemley (not sure of the exact spelling) and thought it fit right in with today's trends. Loaded names are better saved for novels and movies. I say stick with the pre-fix and if you can't find another usable name...just make one up.

Anonymous said...

If the name Ben (Uncle Ben) is usable, then why wouldn't the name Jemima (Aunt Jemima) be usable?

Helena said...

Oooh, I remember suggesting this name for a family pet when I was about 10 (the syrup connotation was probably a plus at that point). My parents strongly vetoed. I remember so vividly because I thought the name was so great (still do!!) but, as an American, I just couldn't use it. Not just because of the syrup thing (heck, we don't veto Molly because of Molly McButter) but because that stereotype (the Slave mammy making you the syrup) is just too strong.

Gemma, however, reads totally differently to me. I first heard it on that model, Gemma Ward (is it Ford? I should google). LOVE that name. I'm surprised it's not more popular as an Emma-alternate.

Anonymous said...

Jemima is a lot more analogous to the name Sambo than it is to Ben-as-in-Uncle-Ben. Or teaching your kids to refer to you as Mammy. Might be fine with a British accent, but definitely too much baggage here.

Cayt said...

I'm in the UK. My first association is also Puddleduck, but that's not an association I'd want for a child. Jemima Puddleduck has no qualities I'd want to see in a child, and it invites nicknames/teasing to an extent that I'd avoid it.

(I have a rather unpleasant ex-girlfriend called Jemma, so I wouldn't personally use that either, but I think that it would make a good alternative for someone who liked Jemima.)

Angela said...

I vote no for Jemima in America. The syrup isn't as big a deal here as the history, and I'm not one to bow to political correctness. I would just hate to have every American cringe at being introduced to my daughter. And I WOULD cringe the first (several?) times I heard the name Jemima on a kid.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely adore the name Jemima and have begged my husband to agree to it as our girl name. For years now he has laughed and made many a syrup joke. However, he has finally agreed that IF we ever have twin girls, I can use it for one of them. The chances of that happening are very, very slim (we have a house full of boys thus far), so he figures he is safe. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Interesting - as a Canadian I can feel the syrup reference, but not so much the slavery one. I would totally use it (though my husband didn't like the suggestion unfortunately).

Anonymous said...

I credit the Jemma jump to the Sons of Anarchy t.v. show, and that it sounds close to super popular Emma. I don't think it necessarily follows that the U.S. is all the sudden ready for Jemima. As long as there are syrup bottles in the shape of a woman on store shelves, Jemima will be attached to syrup and slavery. If you are bold and want to use it, you could but your daughter might HATE you for all the dirty, nasty comments the boys will come up with for her in high school. I went to high school in CA, those boys are nasty. Maybe Jemma would be the safer choice...

Lanie said...

I think it's a beautiful name, but it immediately conjured the Aunt Jemima in the mo-or-or-ning jingle for me. If I knew a little girl named Jemima though, I think it would be cute and would eventually condition the name to picture a cute little girl instead of a syrup bottle.

I say go for it, and make it popular again!

Eva.G said...

I'm in my mid twenties and live in the U.S. I don't think the slavery connotation is an issue anymore for my generation, and certainly not for the children being born today who your daughter would grow up with. I'm not even sure what the slavery connotation is, to be honest!

I wouldn't let those things bother you if you love the name.

jerilyn said...

I've heard of the syrup but i'm not quite sure what the slavery reference is? And I had forgotten all about jemima in chitty chitty! personally, I like the sound of Gemma better (I'm not a huge fan of J names, yes, I have a J name- ironic) but I think this is a cute name.

Eva.G said...

P.S. I also wonder if most Americans who say no to Jemima are from an older generation? Not all I'm sure, but in my generation and younger I just don't think it's a problem! Just a thought though....

Sarah said...

I feel like I'm generally in the "if you love it, use it" camp for almost any name. However, this name just does not sit right with me. The syrup/slavery connotation seems so blatant (and I'm in my 20's). It really does make me uncomfortable at this thought of using the name in the US. Sorry!

Joanne said...

I think it's totally usable. There is a super cute actress on the new HBO show Girls named Jemima, she's British but I love it. There's also a cute novel, or maybe series of novels, with Jemima as the main character. I think Harriet is usable, and Tom, and other names associated with such a troubled time but I don't think Jemima is any worse. In fact, I think it helps.

Maud said...

I don't get it. The syrup lady is black but what does that have to do with slavery? I looked it up and it looks like the brand of syrup is still in use (have not personally seen it, maybe I'm clueless)--surely they would not be using this "mascot"(? Not sure what the word is--spokesperson? Symbol?) if it was racially offensive? I thought she was just a black equivalent of "Betty Crocker." Anyway, I agree that very few people my age (20s) would have the immediate association that just because someone is black she is a slave. Maybe there is something in the history of this brand which makes people think so, but for younger people I highly doubt it will be a problem. To my ear Jemima is cute, hip, and TOTALLY useable. I love it!

Anonymous said...

It might not be an education thing necessarily, but if you have ever taken a college class on race Jemima is THE TERM for negative stereotypes of black women. I'm sure there are lots of biology, math, and European History majors who never encounter it at all, but it's still the primary use of the name Jemima in the United States at this time. As for whether it's use as a mascot for a syrup company proves that it can't possibly be racially offensive, I think that might be something you should ask the Washington Redskins.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people associate the name Jemima with slavery. Is it because you think of Aunt Jemima as being a slave? It's actually a biblical name, I think. How about Jerusha? That used to be very popular, and you never hear it now.

Anonymous said...

Jemima is actually on my list of girls names this pregnancy, however my husband isn't keen. I love the nickname Mimi from Jemima, and due to living in Australia we certainly have no slavery connotations attached. I wasn't aware this was the case in the US so I have had a history lesson this morning while eating breakfast!

Sonia said...

I think it's a beautiful name. And I don't think it's too loaded to use. Uncle Ben's is just as iconic, and racially loaded, as Aunt Jemima, and I don't see people shying away from the name Benjamin. And when my sister-in-law had children, everyone tittered for a minute or two about "Uncle Ben" (my husband Benjamin), but it hasn't been an issue since. Granted, Ben is more common a name than Jemima is currently, but I don't see a problem with using it. Go for it!

Stephanie said...

I immediately relate the name Jemima to Jemima Puddleduck. I live in Australia and I had no idea about the syrup/slavery associations with the name. However, even though I think the name is great (I love slightly old-fashioned British names with cute nicknames), I'm not sure I could name my own daughter Jemima. The Puddleduck association is just too strong, but that's possibly because I've never met a Jemima in real life (I know multiple Gemmas though).

Liz said...

I also only think of the syrup - not slavery. I'm in my twenties, so maybe age does have something to do with it. I was a poli sci major in college and therefore took a number of history classes - and still never heard the Jemima/slavery/race association.
It makes me think that a baby named Jemima now probably won't have peers who associate her name with anything other than the syrup...

Sela Freuler said...

I LOVE the name! I'd very possibly use it on a daughter, and call her either Mim or Mimsy.

British American said...

I'm British, so the Jemima Puddleduck association is the one I grew up with. She's not a smart duck, but I like Beatrix Potter books and I would use the name.

I live in the US and my husband is American and he wouldn't agree to the name when I mentioned it - because of the controversial history in the US with the name. Which I don't really know much about myself.

So I wish the name would be reclaimed and become usable over here.

dregina said...

I wouldn't want it for my name because of the association with the mammy stereotype (which is where the syrup spokesperson came from....Aunt Jemima has changed over time but used to be an awful stereotype, very racist)...I just would hate to be associated with that. Agree with the poster above that it would be like naming a boy Sambo.

Beth said...

We recently spent about 5 years in the UK and during that time TWO good British friends of mine named their babies Jemima. It is definitely a trendy name there (and don't name trends tend to cross the atlantic from the UK to North America?). I predict Jemima will continue to rise in the US but never be the new Ava, Sophie, Isabella, or Maya.

I am Canadian and although I think of the syrup, I don't think of the slavery thing.

I think it is cute and you will be ahead of the trend (but not TOO far ahead) if you use it.

Also - as soon as people know a cute little girl called Jemima, associations with syrup and slavery tend to fade into the background somewhat.

Patricia said...

From Wikipedia: "Aunt Jemima is a trademark for pancake flour, syrup, and other breakfast foods currently owned by the Quaker Oats Company of Chicago. The trademark dates to 1893, although Aunt Jemima pancake mix debuted in 1889... Aunt Jemima originally came from a minstrel show as one of their pantheon of stereotypical African American characters. Aunt Jemima appears to have been a postbellum addition to that cast. The inspiration for Aunt Jemima was Billy Kersands' American-style minstrelsy/vaudeville song "Old Aunt Jemima", written in 1875. The Aunt Jemima character was prominent in minstrel shows in the late 19th century, and was later adopted by commercial interests to represent the Aunt Jemima brand. ...There is a subtext lurking beneath the Aunt Jemima advertisements. She embodied an early twentieth century idealized domesticity that was inspired by old southern hospitality. There were others that capitalized on this theme such as: Uncle Ben's Rice and Cream of Wheat’s Rastus.[10] The backdrop to the trademark image of Aunt Jemima is a romanticised view of antebellum plantation life. The myth surrounding Aunt Jemima's secret recipe, family life, and plantation life as a happy slave all contribute to the post civil war idealism of southern life and America’s developing consumer culture. Early advertisements used an Aunt Jemima paper doll family as an advertising gimmick to buy the product. Aunt Jemima is represented with her husband Rastus, whose name was later changed to Uncle Mose to avoid confusion with the Cream of Wheat character, and their four children: Abraham Lincoln, Dilsie, Zeb and Dinah. The doll family was dressed in tattered clothing and barefoot with the possibility to see them transform from rags to riches by buying another box with civilized clothing cut-outs... The term "Aunt Jemima" is sometimes used colloquially as a female version of the derogatory label "Uncle Tom". In this context, the slang term "Aunt Jemima" falls within the "Mammy archetype", and refers to a friendly black woman who is perceived as obsequiously servile or acting in, or protective of, the interests of whites."

The 1889 drawing of "Jemima's Wedding Day" illustrates why use of this character is so disrespectful of Black Americans: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunt_Jemima

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting discussion of the name Jemima with the conclusion that the name IS usable in the United States: http://appellationmountain.net/2008/07/08/name-of-the-day-jemima/

Anonymous said...

I think it's a lovely name, but feel like if you have to ask if it runs the risk of deeply offending someone, then you probably have your answer about whether or not it is usable. With the risk of such negative associations I would stay away from it.

Anonymous said...

I'd go for it and it's def not a name that's common.
Just lovely*

Anonymous said...

I'm Canadian and I wouldn't use it, personally. My strongest association, by far, is with the syrup, but then my association with the syrup is that it features an image of the black "help" - e.g. "You let Aunt Jemima sere you that syrup, Sugar." While I don't think either association is a loaded as what came up around the name "Cohen" a month or so ago, I'd avoid even "somewhat loaded". That said, SOMEONE has to be the first to start naming their child a name like this, so perhaps you're those people?!

I like the sound of the name Gemma more and the only association I have with that is "gem", which is lovely.

Guinevere said...

Our household of a 30-year-old astrophysics major and a 31-year-old biology major with a computational background (so totally super-science/math nerds) totally CRINGED majorly and agree that it is totally not usable. We might not be humanities majors, but we both had extensive units on racist stereotypes in high school English classes. (Her in an urban area, me in a rural area.)

What separates Jemima from Uncle Ben is that there are NO other associations dominant for this name. NONE. It is the name for the archetypal mammy, and the pancake syrup was riffing on a preexisting history of Jemima as a name for mammy characters. And, the mammy association is kept alive by the pancake syrup continuing to be on the shelves (and the website totally ignores this in our "Our History" section in a way that makes me feel rather icky, and I'm really not overly PC in other respects.)

A big huge enormous vote for NOT USABLE if you are residing in the US or thinking of someday residing in the US. Maybe it's only some strata in our society which are still actively discussing these archetypes in english/history classes, but hoo boy did both of us really really encounter this a great deal in the course of our high school education.

Guinevere said...

OK, maybe NONE is a bit strong. Clearly other people have other associations like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Jemima Puddleduck. But it's a whole lot less closely linked than Ben, where there are many many other associations that swamp out Uncle Ben.

And, for what it's worth, I think it has a just-lovely sound and I really WANT it to be usable.

But I think it for me it would take the pancake syrup changing their name (or perhaps making an overt acknowledgement of the stereotypes and making it more of a "reclaiming" rather than "shoving under the rug"), and then a generation passing, for the mammy association to fade enough for it to be usable.

As it is, the pancake syrup keeps Aunt Jemima=mammy much more readily at the tip of my tongue and in my awareness than Sambo and Uncle Tom and terms like golliwog or pickaninny, which I really needed to rifle through the memory banks from high school to recall.

Ellie said...

I'm in the UK and I think most people here would have no idea of a slavery connection - I certainly didn't. It's a but twee and for me was the name of a doll in a popular 1970s kids' programme on tv, but I know an adult Jemina in a serious job and you get over that connection quickly.

gail said...

Well, it's interesting that the poll is rather evenly split. Is there any way to count the U.S. respondents and separate them from those in the UK/Australia/NZ/other English-speaking countries? Because I think that would be a lot more meaningful.

I also think that Sambo is a more parallel comparison to Aunt Jemima than is Uncle Ben because Ben is a name that Benjamin Franklin and scores of other "founding fathers" shared from the start--in popular U.S. culture it was never primarily associated with slavery or domestic help.

Those who don't like unisex names are stretching, stretching, stretching, searching for girl's names such as Calpurnia and Jemima......anything different.

I would say using this name in the U.S. will still invite quite a bit of attention, at least half of it not positive. Akin to being over 30 and dying your hair green or purple, you'll have a bit of explaining to do. And then later, your daughter will.

Ash said...

There is a twenty something actress on the HBO show "Girls", named Jemima Kirk ( she plays a British, Jewish girl named Jessa). I think her name Is lovely on her, and sounds quite stylish and cool. That said, she is blondeand willowy and I feel it is easier to pull off a name loaded as Jemima is when nothing about your physical appearance suggests the negative assosiation. For example, as a part black person, I would not use Jemima for my own child, who might have some features, coloration or hair type that would remind people of Aunt Jemima.

Sophie said...

While I agree that the sound of the name is ready to come back, I feel like this name has very strong assosiations with the African American community. Using Jemima could seem like a joke. I would find it very strange for a caucasian person to use Jemima.

Laura said...

I adore this name, but as a citizen of the United States and residing in a Southern state, I could never, never, NEVER use this for a daughter. It would absolutely offend others, especially African-Americans, and I would not want to set my daughter up with a name that instantly conjures up hurtful and hateful imagery. As long as Aunt Jemima syrup is on the shelves, the stereotypical "Mammy" image is kept alive.

Anonymous said...

I love the name Jemima (perhaps because I've lived in the UK for 6 years, though I'm from the US) and would almost find it completely useable, except I do worry about giving my daughter a name that apparently a lot of people still view as loaded.

Still...perhaps because I'm not from the south, I only really have connotations of syrup with this name. and I think it SHOULD be reclaimed. I'd totally recommend someone use it!

M.Amanda said...

I'm not a big fan of the name, but that's just personal taste. Syrup comes to mind first. After that, I think how cool it would be to shorten it to Jem and introduce her friends or siblings as "The Holograms." Hee. She probably wouldn't get it, but it would be amusing to us old people.

The racial stereotype thing wasn't even on my radar until others brought it up. It never would have occurred to me that the syrup lady was named Aunt Jemima *because* she was black. Is it possibly regional? Because I certainly can't say I haven't heard it because I've been sheltered from racism my whole life....

Anyhow, I think it's totally usable. I'd not worry about offending people with the name Jemima. Unless your family frequently shows racist tendencies, there is no reason for others to take it as anything other than a string of syllables that identify your little girl.

Anonymous said...

I have an ancestress named "Jemina". Would that work better?

Victoria M said...

I am a 24 year old who lives in the South, and my first thought when I hear Jemima is the mammy/racism thing.

I do think the name itself is beautiful, and if I lived in the UK I would consider it for my daughter. BUT I do not think it is OK to use in the US. Maybe it is not an issue where you live in California, but what if you move somewhere else, she decides to go to college somewhere else, etc. Slavery/racism are big issues in many portions of this country, and I would not want someones first impression of my daughter to be someone who is uneducated or flippant toward a painful and horrific historical event.

Beckye said...

The spelling of Jima brings to mind of II Jima, a famous World Wat II battle. So that might another negative connection.

Jessica said...

I like the suggestion of using Gemima. For me, in print, it takes away the negative connotation. It’s still an on-someone-else’s-baby thing for me, though, for the ‘I don’t want people to cringe when meeting my child’ reason. Sure, they’ll probably get used to the name. Maybe even think it’s pretty. And if they read it (with the G spelling) before hearing it, maybe they won’t cringe. But still.

Although...maybe people won’t ever really get used to it. I know a family whose last name is Butterworth and I still think “syrup” every time I hear it (and also “Mrs.”). It’s not a negative association in this case, but it’s so strong I haven’t ever shaken it even though I’ve known them for 15 years. I even picture a syrup bottle in my head when hearing/saying their name and, as far as I know, I’ve never even bought Mrs. Butterworths.

(Also, I’m in my mid-twenties, too, and the slavery connection is strong to me. I have no idea if it really is less common in my generation, but I think enough people are aware of it to still make it an issue.)

Kimberly said...

I'm in my mid/late twenties, and I have a strong syrup association with the name Jemima - and I don't even use syrup! So I don't think I could use it. However, I did love the previous suggestion to just change the spelling to Gemima - brilliant! And no syrup associations at all.

liz said...

If you decide to go for Gemma instead, get your daughter the set of books by Noel Streatfeild about Gemma (4 books in the series)

Emily said...

Hi, I'm Emily, the one who emailed Swistle about Jemima! It has been interesting reading everyone's comments. I and my family (extended included) aren't racist at all. Jemima appeals to my husband and I because of the nickname potential, and for the Biblical daughter of Job who was beautiful and strong.

I personally feel that since we have a black President named Barack, the name Jemima might hopefully be reclaimed. (Gemma is too short/nicknamey and Gemima just seems "uniquely" spelled) Syrup is not a bad thing to be associated with, and since the mammy stereotype was large before the Civil Rights movement...

We will test it out on family members, and if we do decide to use it we will be jumping in with both feet! Thank you for the responses!

(To make a long comment longer; my husband and I are considering moving to Portland, OR for work - it is an open-minded city however)

Anonymous said...

Oooh! I'm so excited you're thinking of moving to Portland. As I was reading all the comments I was literally thinking to myself that if these kinds of associations are still strong in certain areas of the country, then perhaps people should consider moving somewhere more open minded!

I live in Portland and it's a great place to live. I did live in the Midwest as a kid and knew many people who were still racist and who used inappropriate words to describe others. I couldn't believe it and was deeply offended that that was, and is, still going on! Let me just say, you don't see anything like that in Portland and that is one of the many reasons I wouldn't want to move back to where I lived as a kid. Perhaps in the Midwest and South there are still negative associations with the name Jemima. However, I received my college education in Portland and never once heard about Aunt Jemima. Not once! I'm 25, and this was a whole new topic to me. Also, I don't think they sell that brand of syrup here either as I've never seen it on the shelves!

My other point is that the brand was created over 100 years ago! If we're going to become more progressive as a nation - and having President Obama helps, as you said - we can't have a name unusable after so many years! I think the name should be used to help heal the (very) old wounds! We shouldn't forget that tragic part of our history, of course. But we shouldn't have unusable names - it only worsens things, in my opinion. Maybe you will be the ones to pioneer this!

I do hope you'll move to Portland! It's a very accepting and open minded city. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Oh, my. Portland is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Racism is still a problem, everywhere. Use the name, go ahead, I don't think it's the end of the world, but yikes, your justifications for using it don't make it sound like you really grasp the nature of the problem - it's not that *you* aren't racist or that your family isn't racist or that the president is Black - it's that you are choosing a name that, for a large portion of the US population, conjours up a very damaging racial stereotype that was used for centuries to justify treating black women as second class citizens. Living outside Germany or really, really loving Jewish culture or having a progressive family doesn't fix Adolf, know what I mean? Jemima is not as bad as Adolf but at minimum you should exert the effort to learn about the history of the name and stereotype so you're able to answer questions about why you used the name intelligently - http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/mammies/

Laura said...

I agree with Anonymous at July 12 9:49 am. Also, what does "open-minded" mean when it comes to Portland? Does it mean that the people you will see on a daily basis just don't know about the stereotype? What about the people your daughter will one day meet? Will she always live in the Pacific Northwest? What if she moves to Atlanta as an adult? Please do some more research on this name, and speak to more than just your family about how they feel. Please talk to all types of people, young, old, white, black, rich, poor, etc. - this name just has so much baggage with it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at July 12 9:49 am: Do you live in Portland? Just wondering how you know it's one of the most segregated cities in the nation. I've lived in 3 different states, including Oregon, and traveled a lot and not found that to be so.

Oh, and visit Portland and you'll find out what open-minded means! :-)

M.Amanda said...

I don't see why the name can't be reclaimed. Why must we have this attitude that it was used in a derogatory manner toward a group of people in a certain part of the world, therefore nobody who does or ever might live there can ever use the name? If we keep bringing this up (Jemima = derogatory), then the association will never change.

However, if we say, "This happened; it wasn't right, but we're moving on," then there is a chance that future generations won't focus on a negative connotation that is not intended when someone gives the name to their beloved child.

Seriously, there have been countless stories related just on this blog alone about how someone associated a certain name with someone or something unpleasant, but when applied to an adorable child, suddenly they're all, "I don't even care about that other thing. Look how cute!" We need cute, sweet Jemimas in the world to dull the memory of the racist use of the name.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I love-love-love Portland, but yes, it is a very segregated city, both racially and socioeconomically. (So are other cities I love, including the very diverse city I currently live in, sadly.) BUT I think this is neither here nor there when it comes to using the name. I think you can use it if you love it, but you need to understand its history and what the meaning may be for others. That said, I think the Jemima reference is waning with each generation, and I (very happily) highly doubt that my child or this child or others in their generation will have the same associations that we and our parents/grandparents have with the name. (The fact that it is on the rise in the UK will also help--as 8:13 says, we need more little Jemimas in the world to help move past the history.) But there will be a transition period as the older generations move on, so you need to be prepared for that. There are other names with similar baggage, and many are slowly being reclaimed. You can do it, but you need to understand and embrace the history (and help your child do the same, when the time is right), not simply brush it aside.

Anonymous said...

I've met one of the 28 Jemimas born in 2005 and one of the 50 born in 2009. The seven-year-old went by Jem and Jemmy and the three-year-old's parents called her Mimsy.

Even before I met them I didn't have any negative connotations or associations with the name, and while I wouldn't choose it for my own child I love it on other people's children.

Anonymous said...

M.Amanda, very well said! You so eloquently put into words what I was trying to say above!! I said that having "unusable" names only makes things worse, and I wholeheartedly agree that thinking "Jemima = derogatory" will only continue the negative association. Yes, cute little Jemimas running around will definitely help! For some reason, whenever I see a cute baby with a name, even a name I previously really disliked, all of a sudden I'm thinking....What a great name! Now I want to use it! Funny how that works. :-)

mjb said...

I think I'd stick with Jemma! It's close but non-offensive.

Jenny Grace said...

I think usable. There is a syrup/slavery thing, but that's fading. And my stronger associations are probably Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Puddleduck.

Karen L said...

reclaimed? Uhm. Reclamation is done by the group harmed by the word/name. Otherwise, it is called appropriation or "sweeping under the rug."

Anonymous said...

My name is Jemima! I live in Australia though so had never even heard of the syrup... I get heaps of positive comments on my name, and I love being the only one! Nicknames include Jemi, Mima, Mimey, Jem, Jam :)
Definitely usable!