From a medieval form of the Latin name Aemilia, the feminine version of the old Roman family name Aemilius (probably from aemulus ‘rival’). It was not common in the Middle Ages, but was revived in the 19th century and is extremely popular throughout the English-speaking world today. Its best-known 19th‐century bearer was probably the novelist and poet Emily Brontë (1818–48).
German (also Künkler): occupational name for a spinner or spinster, i.e. someone who spins wool or flax, from an agent derivative of Middle High German kunkel ‘spindle’, ‘distaff’. Kunkler also denoted a gossipmonger, and in some cases the surname may have arisen from this sense.