Anyone who’s ever sat beside a dying campfire late at night knows how mesmerizing the embers can be. That shimmering orange-red glow that grows alternatively brighter and dimmer depending on the wind…it’s hard not to imagine that it’s somehow breathing, somehow alive.
Author Cormac McCarthy expressed this idea (albeit in a much more eloquent/macabre way) in his book Blood Meridian:
The flames sawed in the wind and the embers paled and deepened and paled and deepened like the bloodbeat of some living thing eviscerate upon the ground before them.
Powerful imagery, isn’t it?
An ember is a smoldering piece of coal, wood or other carbon-based material left over after a fire. Embers stay hot for a long time — so hot that they can be used to rekindle a fire hours after the flames are put out. By extension, the plural form is also sometimes used to refer to “slowly dying or fading emotions, memories, ideas, or responses still capable of being revived.”
The modern word ember, which has existed since the 14th century, was derived from the Middle English eymere, which in turn came from the Old English æmerge, which ultimately came from an unrecorded Indo-European word that referred to burning.
So has the word ember ever been used as a baby name?
Yes. In fact, you might be surprised by how popular the baby name Ember has become lately. Here’s a running tally of the number of U.S. baby girls named Ember so far this century:
- 2013: 519 baby girls named Ember [rank: 558th]
- 2012: 506 baby girls named Ember [rank: 576th]
- 2011: 421 baby girls named Ember [rank: 669th]
- 2010: 326 baby girls named Ember [rank: 824th]
- 2009: 309 baby girls named Ember [rank: 886th]
- 2008: 201 baby girls named Ember
- 2007: 222 baby girls named Ember
- 2006: 176 baby girls named Ember
- 2005: 160 baby girls named Ember
- 2004: 143 baby girls named Ember
- 2003: 127 baby girls named Ember
- 2002: 98 baby girls named Ember
- 2001: 90 baby girls named Ember
- 2000: 68 baby girls named Ember
Ember has been used as a personal name in the U.S. since the 1800s, though usage remained rare until the 1970s. By the end of that decade, a few dozen baby girls were being named Ember every year. Usage kept creeping upward over the following decades until the name really started taking off in the mid-2000s. In 2009, Ember became one of the 1,000 most popular girl names in the nation — something that would have been hard to predict a mere 10 or 15 years ago.
The states with the most people tend to have the most babies named Ember. In 2013, for instance, there were 56 Embers born in California, 45 born in Texas, and 27 born in Florida. But several states don’t quite follow this pattern:
- New York, the 4th most populous state, welcomed only 11 Embers.
- Utah, the 33rd most populous state, welcomed an impressive 18 Embers. (The name has long been trendy in Utah, having debuted on Utah’s state-specific baby name list way back in 1975.)
Though the name isn’t traditionally associated with a gender, and the SSA data shows that a handful of baby boys have indeed been named Ember recently, the vast majority of babies being named Ember are girls.
Which reminds me of a sound-alike nature name also used mainly for girls that was quite trendy several decades ago: Amber. Amber saw peak usage during the second half of the ’80s, but usage has been cooling off since then. Ember, on the other hand, is just heating up (pun intended!). Could Ember be the new Amber, I wonder?
What do you think of the baby name Ember?
UPDATE, 5/9/2015: The 2014 names were just released. Ember was given to 729 baby girls and 10 baby boys last year. Ember is now ranked 435th for girls.
Image: Adapted from Aljamer SM.BOUALAM by Mohamed Boualam under CC BY-SA 4.0