Its source is Irmen, an Ancient Germanic name meaning "Universal."
Commentators are divided on dating the introduction of Emma to Britain. This may be due to its nickname relationship to Germanic names (Irmentrude, Irmengarde and others) that were in use among the Anglo-Saxons and also were ancestors to Norman French names brought to the island by the Conquest of 1066.
Emma has been widely used in fiction. In Gustav Flaubert's 1857 novel Madame Bovary, a title character named Emma follows a path of romantic irresponsibility to a pointless death. Television screens sizzled to the adventures of Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg, in the 1960s British series The Avengers. And Jane Austen's humorous 1816 drawing-room romance Emma has seen several recent television and film incarnations.