Albany resident Amanda Katzenstein was in middle school when she decided she would name her future daughter Emma.
“I was at a family reunion in Kansas and my grandmother was working on family tree stuff and I remember seeing ‘Emma’ multiple times and thought, ‘If I ever have a girl, I’m naming her Emma.’”
So, when she had her second child and first girl 16 months ago, she named her Emma. And she wasn’t alone.
According to the Social Security Administration, Emma, Emily, Sophia, Isabella and Ashley have taken turns the last two decades as the top girls' name nationally. But in Oregon, the names Emma and Emily have been issued to more girls born in the state than any other name in 16 of the last 21 years. The result is that women from the age of 21 to babies like Emma Katzenstein have one thing in common: their name was the most popular choice the year they were born.
It’s something Katzenstein took into account when pulling the trigger on her childhood declaration.
“Part of me wasn’t sure I wanted to name her something everyone else was naming their kids,” she said. “I knew it was popular but I really loved it.”
So did Arti Louisiana. She had been traveling in New Zealand when she met an Emma and made a mental note. When it came time to name her 11-month-old daughter, it was between Vienna and Emma.
“It was a simple old name and I’m a huge Jane Austen fan,” said Louisiana, who lives in Salem. “It’s simple so it’s easy to spell and say for both sides of our family, not like Penelope.”
Both Katzenstein and Louisiana said they knew what they were getting into and have backup plans. Katzenstein’s daughter’s middle name is Louise and at home, they call her LouLou, something that may carry over when she goes to school. Louisiana’s daughter may also incorporate her middle name — Kay — as a way to differentiate herself from the flood of Emmas she may encounter in school.
Albany native Emma Greeven’s parents told her they were less aware of the potential issues of having such a common name.
“They told me when I got to high school that they thought I could go by my middle name, Catherine maybe Cat or Catie because Emma was a weird name. Then everyone started naming their girls Emma so it wasn’t weird anymore,” she said.
Now 21, she said she never had to go by her middle name but often was known as Emma G. — a common experience for Emmas and Emilys who often had to utilize the first initial of their last name to avoid confusion for teachers.
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Greeven is currently a senior at the University of Oregon but graduated from Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis and said she wasn’t substantially affected by having such a common name.
“When I was younger I wanted a more unique nickname. Emma is so short it’s hard to turn it into a nickname. My parents call me Em,” she said.
The year Greeven was born, the number one name in Oregon was Emily. A year later, when Emily Balck was born, her parents gave into the trend but both often went by "Em" as children.
“My parents say they were looking through a baby book name and they saw it and swear it wasn’t popular,” said Balck, an Albany resident.
A graduate of South Albany High School, she said there were at least three other Emilys in her graduating class.
“I went back and forth between liking my name,” she said. “I wanted a more unique spelling but it’s a common name and I haven’t had any issues because of it. I like it now.”
Philomath native Emily Stahl, 20, is currently attending Oregon State University. She said she hasn't had any challenges related to her name, other than sharing it with members of her classes at school.
Sandwiched between the infant Emmas and the adult Emilys, 14-year-old Albany resident Emma Lathrom said she has several Emmas in her class.
"We just liked the name," said her mother, Kalli. "We hadn't heard of a lot of Emmas so I'm surprised it's the number one name."
Five-year-old Emma McLin is happy to shout her name when she meets people and said she has one other Emma in her class at Clover Ridge Elementary School in Albany. She's campaigned for a little brother and her mom, Nicole, says the family is hoping to adopt but admits choosing a name for a boy is much easier.
"When we were looking for her name, we were looking at baby lists on our phone and my husband asked about Emma," she said. "I didn't like it, I thought it sounded like an old lady name but then thought, 'It's short, it's spelled how it sounds.' I ended up loving it but, yeah, it's common."