What Does Your Name Mean? The Secret Meanings Behind Emily, Olivia, Sophia, and 17 Other Popular Women's Names

Sure, Shakespeare may have once said, "What's in a name?" but that guy was wrong about a bunch of things — including the importance of knowing what names mean. People have long been obsessed with understanding name meanings, and I don't mean just knowing their literal translations. Through the centuries, many different societies have come up with all sort of philosophies to try to suss out the true meanings behind our names.

For instance, according to practitioners of the Kabalarian philosophy, every name has not just a literal meaning, but personality traits associated with it, too. And those who believe in numerology think there is special and informative meaning to be found in the number of letters in your full name. Practitioners add the numbers up in a special way to gain insight into your personality, and sometimes even your destiny. For example, applying numerological principles to my full name suggests that I’m an idealist and a dreamer (both true). And if you apply Soul Urge numerology theory to my name, you come up with the number nine, makes me both a philanthropist and a humanitarian (which is almost true).

Whether you plan your life by these philosophies, or think that they're just a bit of harmless fun, is your call. But who doesn't like getting a little extra insight into themselves? To that end, we've compiled the 20 most popular women's names of the past few decades, and researched their meaning on the Kabalarian's name-meaning website. Keep in mind that these are all for entertainment purposes only — they should not make you feel bad about yourself, judge your friends, or dump your girlfriend who happens to be named Emily. So, that said: are you ready to find out your deepest, truest personality, Emma, Olivia, Madison, Ashley, Ava, Jessica, and company? Then let's get down to business!

1. Sophia

Etymology: Sophia means “wisdom” in Greek

Interpretation: Sophia has a desire to learn and be free from conventional restrictions. She is equally imaginative and analytic, and has a great love for the outdoors. Sophia also tends to be deeper than she may initially appear — which can lead her to be nervous.

2. Emma

Etymology: With roots in German, Emma means “whole” or “universal.”

Interpretation: Emma is creative in any and all art forms, and can only feel happy when she can express that creativity. She needs the freedom to do what she wants on her own time and because of this, she has little tolerance for those who don’t do their share of the work. When Emma's around, you'd better pick up the slack!

3. Emily

Etymology: Emily is the female form of Aemilius, which means “rival.”

Interpretation: Emily is positive and assertive — a combination which can lead to occasional impulsive behavior, especially when she feels as though someone is trying to boss her around. She also has no qualms about using sarcasm when offended in any way, which can sometimes put stress on her friendships. She's intense.

4. Olivia

Etymology: Olivia was first spelled this way by Shakespeare in his play Twelfth Night, and is the feminine version of Oliver, which means “olive.”

Interpretation: Similar to Sophia, Olivia has a burning desire to learn everything she possibly can. She suffers deeply when she feels misunderstood, she will not stand for monotony, and she is easily hurt.

5. Madison

Etymology: Madison means the “son of Maud." It was rarely used as a woman’s name until the 1984 movie Splash, which featured a female protagonist named Madison. This led to a worldwide boom in female Madisons.

Interpretation: Madison tends to be shy in crowds. She struggles with wanting to be part of the conversation, but then not being able to express herself in such an intense setting. But when she is with her friends, she is relaxed and open — this can lead to confusion for others. She is so generous that she runs the risk of being taken advantage of.

6. Hannah

Etymology: From the name Channah, Hannah means both “favour” and “grace.”

Interpretation: Hannah is both social and charming, and agreeable in social settings. She sticks to her guns and rarely wavers in her thoughts and opinions — which is something Hannah herself needs to be aware of, so as to avoid causing pointless trouble. She is great at giving advice, but rarely follows it herself.

7. Ashley

Etymology: Once a common first name for boys in the U.S., Ashley means “ash tree clearing.”

Interpretation: Ashley is an intellectual with a love for independence, art, and learning. She is better with the written word than the spoken word, and she prefers to work alone, which can create a sort of loneliness in her life.

8. Isabella

Etymology: Isabella is derived from Isabel, a name associated with royalty in medieval times.

Interpretation: Isabella is idealistic, sensitive, and enjoys helping others. She is most comfortable expressing herself through the written word and is moved by the beauty of life. She is secretive, and inspired by others, but often a bit suspicious.

9. Ava

Etymology: Ava is a form of Eve (as in Adam and Eve).

Interpretation: Ava needs to understand that those around her sometimes suck her into the drama that she doesn’t want to be a part of. She loves children, and probably can’t wait to have a family of her own someday. She’s prone to procrastination, but is also a positive influence on those all those who know her.

10. Abigail

Etymology: In Hebrew, Abigail means “my father is joy.”

Interpretation: Abigail longs for new experiences and to be around those people who can provide those new experiences. She is both witty and creative, but somewhat unstable in her emotions. She wants to travel the world, and shuns the idea of conformity. She is confident on the outside, but needs a bit of help with her inner confidence.

11. Alexis

Etymology: In Greek, Alexis mean “helper” or “defender.”

Interpretation: Alexis is an independent intellectual who is often a gifted writer. She can be closed off in her emotions, and only lets her closest friends see the real her. She has a head for business, but her independence gets in the way.

12. Samantha

Etymology: Samantha is the female form of Samuel, is thought to derive from “antha,” which means flower.

Interpretation: Samantha can do anything she puts her mind to, but rarely finishes what she starts. This is because she is constantly searching for contentment. She is easily bored, and her restlessness diminishes her ability to develop real stability in her life. She has friends, but can lose interest in them quickly, so she tends to jump from group to group.

13. Jessica

Etymology: The name Jessica was first used in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Interpretation: Jessica is an expressive person. She’s easy to get along with, confident, spontaneous, and always has something to say. She’s open to learning, but has a hard time concentrating.

14. Sarah

Etymology: In Hebrew, Sarah means “lady, princess, noblewoman.”

Interpretation: Sarah wants the finer things in life, but sometimes has a hard time achieving her goals because of procrastination. Wounded bird-types often flock to Sarah, because she likes to offer advice and fix things using her knack for diplomacy. She is a sucker for rich food.

15. Brittany

Etymology: Brittany comes from Bretagne, a region in France named for the Britton settlers.

Interpretation: Brittany is determined, resourceful, and inventive. She is sometimes too focused on her career to see much else beyond it, and can self-conscious in new situations. She only has a few friends, but is a good friend to all of them.

16. Amanda

Etymology: In Latin, Amanda means “lovable.”

Interpretation: Amanda wants everything to be beautiful and is drawn to all things lovely. She is sensitive, though, and sometimes terrified by her own thoughts. She is never truly at peace, because she has little control over her emotions. She’s either the life of the party or completely socially shut off, but nowhere in the middle.

17. Jennifer

Etymology: Jennifer is a Cornish form of Guinevere.

Interpretation: Jennifer is both understanding and misunderstood. She struggles with figuring out how to present herself to others, and has a hard time admitting when she is wrong. She is often scatter-brained, because she has too many thoughts in her head at once and the intensity of her feelings can keep her from being truly happy.

18. Melissa

Etymology: In Greek, Melissa means “bee.”

Interpretation: Melissa is clever, responsible, and serious. In her youth, she was an old soul of sorts, and as she gets older, she finds that home and family are most important. She is reliable, but does not like to rely on others — sometimes, she can be a bit too independent.

19. Amy

Etymology: The name Amy comes from the French Aimee, which means "beloved."

Interpretation: Amy is easy to talk to and very approachable. She makes friends easily, because she’s sympathetic and can talk to anyone. She is confident in her plans, but sometimes needs help with the execution. She is creative in a “practical” way, but is not very orderly when she does get to work. Above all else, Amy is friendly.

20. Michelle

Etymology: The name Michelle is the feminine version of Michael.

Interpretation: Michelle is a meticulous hard worker, with a ton of patience for everything she takes on. She is logical, prefers to do things without the input of others, and refuses to change. She is ambitious, but has a hard time showing her love to those around her. She needs a routine to feel complete.

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