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I Love a Terrifying Name!

I'm a hopeless Egypt lover and have dreamed of naming a future daughter Isis ever since I was ten. Now I am expecting boy/girl twins (and most likely giving the middle name Alexandra to my daughter in honor of my ill father). What do you think? Is Isis useable or not? No other name appeals to me more than Isis. Is a terrorist group really worth giving up my dream name? I must add that my entire family is Hispanic and the whole terrorist drama seems so foreign to us at times.

--Egypt Lover

I can picture you now, a little girl reading about the marvels of the pyramids, the incredible beauty of the hieroglyphics, the wonders of King Tut’s tomb, and the gods and goddesses and legendary kings and queens that inspired Egyptian culture. It probably seemed so fascinatingly beautiful, so far-off and thrilling. The name Isis—which refers to the ancient Egyptian goddess of marriage, motherhood, and fertility—represents all of that to you: the beauty, the enchantment, the wonder of a dream come true.

But a group of violent terrorists have tarnished that dream. Because right now, in November 2014, with reports of beheadings on the news, the immediate connotation of the name Isis is not a nurturing Egyptian goddess but a radically politicized religious sect. That’s a heavy load of associations for one short name to carry.

Your family, your neighbors, your wider community and culture do not share the knee-jerk revulsion from the name that might be the typical response in the United States. Since those circles will comprise your daughter’s primary affiliations, certainly in her early years, I can see your hesitance to explore other name options. Further, there’s no way to know whether this group, which has risen rapidly to international notoriety, will fade away as quickly. Or, with all the acronyms by which it is known, ISIS will even stick as the standard way of referring to the group in the media.

Despite these claims in favor of keeping your favorite name, I suggest you let this dream go. Put yourself in your daughter’s future shoes: would you want murder and terror to be the first associations strangers would have with your name? Even the potential for such connections would sink the name's chances for me. I'm fairly sure large numbers of men named Adolph in the 1910s and '20s—when it was a popular choice for boys—struggled with their name's subsequent connections to a man who had nothing to do with them, yet cast a shadow over their world. Or ask yourself which would bother you more: to give up the name you have loved for so long? Or to choose it and spend the rest of your daughter's life witnessing raised eyebrows (or worse) in reaction from those who meet her?

While I do understand if your devotion to the name Isis outweighs the risks of choosing this name in the current geopolitical climate, I urge you to consider other possibilities. You may like names that have a similar sound and feel to Isis, such as Iris, Anais, Isla, or Isaline. You could also choose another name that affirms your love of Egyptology, like Auset (an alternate version of Isis), Amunet, Ana, Kiya, Nefertiti, or Ibis. You could investigate goddesses with appealing names in other cultures. A brief list of maternity goddesses includes the names Damara, Brigid, Rosemerta, Freya, Hera, Rhea, Ceres, Flora, Venus, and Juno. Or, finally, you could name your son in honor of your Egyptian interests and name your daughter after your father, another relative, or another significant part of your life entirely.


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November 17, 2014 11:20 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm afraid the timing is bad on this one. Many people will assume you named your daughter after the terrorist group.

Could you use Alexandria (after the Egyptian city) instead of Alexandra?

November 17, 2014 12:15 PM
By Sasha (not verified)

I don't believe people will think you named her AFTER the terrorist group, but they definitely might wonder why you would use the SAME name as a terrorist group. Alexandria is a cool idea.

November 17, 2014 12:38 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You could flip them and use Alexandria Isis.

I live in the US, and I still first think of the goddess when I hear Isis. but I think most people won't do that. I do think over time the connection will drop and not be an issue anymore, but unfortunately right now the timing is bad.

November 17, 2014 5:10 PM
By JenJen (not verified)

Name her Alexandra Nefertiti or Alexandra Hatshepsut. The former was known as the most beautiful woman ever. The latter was a wise ruler.

November 17, 2014 7:59 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would guess that part of the appeal of Isis is that it sounded Egyptian. However, I think Isis will no longer evoke thoughts of Egypt in the minds of most others. On the other hand, Cleopatra is a great Egyptian name.

November 18, 2014 11:39 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Isis is also the name of the spy agency in the TV show Archer.

November 18, 2014 12:45 PM
By Jenny (not verified)

Cairo is a cute name, too!

November 18, 2014 1:26 PM
By Carolyn (not verified)

Don't know if this will appeal to you, but I know one little girl named Sahara. I also like previous posters' suggestions of Alexandria, and I think that Cleo would sound completely at home in a modern-day preschool.

I agree that the timing unfortunately ruins this name, and it's too early to tell whether future generations will associate the name Isis more with ancient Egypt or with the terrorist group.

Here's a thought experiment that might or might not help: if you'd had your babies a year ago and named the girl Isis, how would you feel about the current news association?

November 18, 2014 1:38 PM
By E. (not verified)

Cleo and Anaïs (a-niy-EES or a-na-EES) are awesome names.

Isis WAS a good name, but was ruined. It's ok to mourn the loss of a name. It sucks.

November 18, 2014 1:38 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What about Nile?

November 18, 2014 1:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Was. Won't be going forward for all the same reasons.

November 18, 2014 2:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't agree that Isis is ruined as a name. We live in such a crazy, volatile geopolitical climate right now, that I doubt the IS group will still be on the stage in 5 years time. I know a little 5 year-old Isis, and most people assume she was named for the goddess. (She was, but via the Bob Dylan song.)

November 18, 2014 2:19 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

How many terrorist groups from 10 years ago can you name? I'd be surprised if it's more than a couple. So it's not very likely that people with associate Isis with terrorism in 10 years.

November 18, 2014 4:02 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You could go with Alexandria Isis, then you would have a legitimate way of shying away if Isis seems too much after she is born (assuming you like Alexandra/ia or one of its nicknames enough to use it as your daugter's primary name), or shifting over to it later if it seems right or the group fades out of the public conscience.

November 18, 2014 4:09 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know a 8 year old who is called ISIS and is currently changing her name as unfortunately she is getting all sorts of ridicule and bullying because of her name. maybe use it as a mn and perhaps when she is older she could use it

November 18, 2014 4:10 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

How about Isadora? Meaning "gift of Isis?" For me, Isis is a definite NO. I used to love the name, too.

November 18, 2014 4:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I completely disagree that Isis is a ruined name. If it were me I'd consider Isis as a middle name and call her Isis as a nickname / informal name. It frees her to use Isis with friends and family who understand the sentiment behind it, and Alexandra for a formal public facing name for official documents, school etc. As she grows she can pick whatever name or nickname she prefers, depending on many factors including political issues past or current. Furthermore, Alexandra is a far stronger name professionally speaking but Isis gives her a quirky, cute, unique alternative if that's what her fits her work personality. Rest assured, calling a child by their middle name informally is really common. I also like the suggestion of Cleo which is fun and totally of the moment.

November 18, 2014 4:32 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Isadora = OMG CUTE

November 18, 2014 4:59 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Ishtar? Meritata? ANy Egyptian - mythology/historical name might have problems as most of the personalities had good AND bad associations. Hathor and Bastet are quite user-friendly names. Then there is Ishbel, Irene, Isla, Iceni... Amarna aand Rosetta also have the right connotations. Good luck with your naming. It's a knotty problem. The name evidently means "Throne" so you might find other Queen names.

Cleo seems a fair choice to me.

November 18, 2014 5:39 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think going with another name of Egytian origin would be your best option, or using it as a middle name (although, unfortunately, I think it's unlikely, the connotations of the name Isis may fade in the future, at which point your daughter could be called by her middle name). Names such as Cairo, Rhea, Sahara, Auset, Ceres, or even Egypt, are also quite nice.
Unfortunately, for the sake of your daughter, I really do think it'd be best to go with another name. My name is Kenya, as in the African country, and although I love my name, I've even experienced some bullying over it. I can only imagine the terrible stuff that could come from Isis.

November 18, 2014 6:00 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't believe Isis is ruined as a name. It's not even the terrorist group's name, since that is an acronym ! One that changed quite a bit before settling on Isis and may yet change again.
Furthermore the name has existed for so long before this group popped up in our news feeds, I think it has endured the rise and fall of civilisations and great changes in culture, I don't think an unfortunate acronym can erase all of that history now.
I don't think anyone in their right mind would assume you named your daughter after a terrorist group, especially since the middle name you chose clearly references Egypt.

November 18, 2014 6:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I hate to correct you but Cleopatra is not an Egyptian name but comes from the Greek. If you remember your muses Cleo or Clio is Greek and "patra" is Greek for father".

November 18, 2014 7:56 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

It's a shame how current events and pop culture can tarnish a name's associations. For me, Isis will always be primarily the name of an Egyptian goddess, but i know that a lot of people may not be familiar with that ancient culture and will only know the name from the news.

I knew an Isis in high school. She was from Brazil. She pronounce her name more like, "Iss-iss" instead of EYE-sis, like how we say it in English. So maybe, since your family is Hispanic, you will use a pronunciation different from the standard English one being used to refer to the terrorist group. That would help distance the bad associations.

But to really be safe, you could use Isis as a middle name and use Alexandra or Alexandria (which is my niece middle name) as the first name. That way you are still using the name Isis, and you can still explain to your daughter why you love the name, but she will not face so many negative reactions from others. And one day, if it is safer to use the name, she will have it available to her to use as she wishes to.

November 18, 2014 8:40 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My first thought was "What is so terrifying about the name Isis?" I didn't even make the mental connection to the terrorist group, but that could because I always thought of the Egyption Goddess first and I don't tend to stay current with the news.

To be on the safe side, I agree with those who said go with Alexandra Isis or Alexandria Isis. Or alter your dream name slightly and call her Isadora (which is also a beautiful name).

November 18, 2014 9:28 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What about Isidore? An ancient Greek name meaning “gift of Isis” -- Isis being an Egyptian goddess -- Isidore was adopted by Spanish Jews to the point where it became almost exclusively theirs. Off the Social Security list since 1928, there is some renewed interest in Isidore (with nicknames Izzy or Dore), which is now Number 587 on Nameberry

November 19, 2014 9:15 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I disagree that Isis is ruined. This is the boogeyman of the year and by the time she's old enough to notice it will have passed in favor of something else. Keep it.

November 19, 2014 10:30 PM
By Deej (not verified)

I think that even though the prevalence of the terrorist group in the media will have died once she is old enough to notice, the association will not have. I was taught all about the ancient Egyptian gods, and while I remember hearing of Isis, my first thought when I hear the word is the terrorist organization, and it is likely to stay that way for a long time. More people will probably have heard of ISIS in the news than will remember learning about Egyptian gods in elementary school. I just don't think the association with the goddess is as strong as you think it is. If I heard the name Isis five years ago I would have thought it was an odd variant of Iris that felt trendy and never would have guessed it was based on anything Egyptian even if I heard it along with Alexandra. To me, Alexandra has simply become a name and I do not associate it with a place at all. (Alexandria is a little different and I may have, although its unlikely, have associated it with the place. I still would not have gotten the Isis-Egyptian goddess connection along with it.)

Unfortunately I think you should let this name go or go with other suggestions of making it your daughter's middle name.

Good luck!

November 20, 2014 12:23 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

There are a lot of things you dream about as a young girl that you have to give up when you grow up... unfortunately, I'd say this name is one. If I met someone who named their baby that now, I would for sure do a double-take. Even if I knew that the parents had chosen it for Egyptian reasons, to me it would feel almost disrespectful to those who have been tortured and decapitated. It's not like other terrorist groups since this one has been so aggressive with publicity and aimed at the U.S. So almost everyone knows their name and even if they fade away tomorrow the name will still be tainted. I know a 14 y.o. Isis named for the goddess but still the terrorist images are a stronger association for me. A shame since it's a great name!

November 21, 2014 1:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm sorry, but I don't think you can use it. Even though other names like ISIL, IS, etc. are used; ISIS really is the most common reference made. Even if it drops off; history will still remember. What if later on in social studies or a history class ISIS is taught to your daughter and class mates? That will actually more than likely happen. But, because of the brutal beheadings and the fact that they are all over the place, I don't see them being brought down anytime soon. Anyone who pays even passing attention to current events (and everyone certainly should)will know this group. Al Quaida may not be something you would name a kid - but they are a group that will never be forgotten - unfortunately, I think this is true for ISIS as well.

November 22, 2014 12:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Call her Isadora and Isis for short at home, but maybe at school she can be called Izzy or Dora? I don't know. But Alexandria (Alex) or Cleopatra (Cleo) are beautiful names too (:

November 23, 2014 11:42 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Call her Cairo.

November 24, 2014 2:34 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

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November 30, 2014 12:00 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

A 5 year old isn't going to have a clue who the terrorist group is when your kids start school. In all likelihood it's YOU who are going to get the questions regarding the naming of your DD Isis. And when they come, you can explain your love of Egyptology.

Use the name. I like Isis Alexandria to emphasize the link between the goddess and Egypt.

For the record, I'm the mom of a 6 year old named Siri. It was the only name DH and I liked. The first 6 months or so we had to remind people of the proper pronunciation and that it wasn't because of Suri Cruise. Then the Siri iPhone app came out and we got questions about that (though it solved the problem of mispronunciation!) My DD is in kindergarten and has never been asked by her peers about the app or Suri Cruise. If YOU can deal with the questions, use the name.

December 22, 2014 8:02 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

It makes me think of the dog in Downton Abbey. I like Isis, I would probably still use it. I think the media will move on to using another name for the terrorist group, and/or that that group will leave the spotlight.

January 1, 2015 9:23 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I like the name Isadora. If you shorten it to Isa, it will be closer to the name Isis, the name you've always liked. To clarify, I meant to use Isa by itself, not the whole name Isadora. Isa Alexandra sounds very pretty to me. I hope that you will decide on a name that you, husband and daughter will be very happy with.

November 18, 2015 9:10 PM
By Kaelee (not verified)

I honestly never heard of the godess and thought of the terrorist group. All aside, it would be a beautiful name. It's just wrong timing.

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