Name of the Day: Isla

by appellationmountain on August 19, 2008

This choice conjures up exotic islands, of both the verdant green and lush tropical variety, and seems poised to be the Next Big Thing.

Thanks to Kayt for suggesting today’s Name of the Day, the enchanting Isla.

If your first exposure to Isla was Spanish class, or maybe Madonna’s 1987 single “La Isla Bonita,” you may have assumed the name was pronounced EES lah. In addition to being the Spanish word for island, it’s also a nickname for Puerto Rico.

Then came 2005’s Wedding Crashers and the star-making turn of Australian-born Scot Isla Fisher. (She played Gloria.) We all learned that Isla, pronounced EYE lah, refers to yet another island – the equally lovely, but far more northern, Islay, known for malt whisky and birdwatching, and part of the Hebrides.

While Isla is sometimes described as a traditional Scottish name, it’s probably less than 150 years old. It is a Top 20 choice in Scotland today, and is gaining in the UK’s overall rankings – she first entered their Top 100 in 2006.

Two early notable Islas are British television actress Isla Blair and Scottish singer and actress Isla St. Clair. The latter arrived at the choice as a contraction of her birth name, the unrelated Isabella.

Despite brief appearances in the Top 1000 in 1886, 1887, 1905 and 1908, Isla is currently unranked – and little known – in the US, but should Ms. Fisher’s career take off, that’s likely to change. She’s starring in 2009’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. If the movie does half as well as the book, Isla might be the new Ava.

There’s one tiny complication with this oh-so simple and appealing moniker. It’s tempting to confuse it with Ayla. Technically, Ayla is pronounced AY lah and originates from either Turkish or Hebrew. In Turkish, the name is related to the moon; in Hebrew, it means oak tree. And some parents probably first encountered Ayla in Jean M. Auel’s bestselling Clan of the Cave Bear, where Ayla was a sort of jumbled pronunciation of the orphaned Cro-Magnon girl’s name by her rescuers in the Neanderthal tribe. While Isla may be unranked, Ayla is fairly popular, at #383.

While Ayla has roots and history aplenty, we can’t help but feel that she blends into the Name Blob – Kayla, Jayla, Jaidyn, Hayden, Haylie, Layla.

In contrast, we love Isla’s simplicity and feel she fits well with chart-toppers like Ava and Mia – while still standing out as distinct from many of the more common choices.

Plus, names that surface in the UK Top 100 almost always present fresh and appealing choices for American parents. Isla’s Spanish/Scottish roots give her some additional, cross-cultural appeal. Potential pronunciation hazards aside, we think this would be a sophisticated and easy choice for a daughter.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali December 28, 2013 at 9:16 PM

Isla is such a pretty name, I’m so glad it’s here. I’m Spanish however and everyone here would pronounce it EES-LA. I definitely prefer that pronounciation. EYE-LA makes me think of a great big eyeball..lol. Isla in Spanish means ‘island’. Puerto Rico’s nickname isn’t ‘Isla’. It’s ‘La Isla Encantadora’ (The Enchanted Island).

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Isla July 20, 2010 at 4:38 PM

I too love Isla, but perhaps that’s just because it’s my name, and has been for 28 years. I’m the only Isla I know, although I have had a few little girls named after my name. Not too happy with its popularity rising, although that may mean that it will be mis-pronounced less often.

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Naomi May 11, 2010 at 4:49 PM

Love the name Isla (pronounced Eye-lah). It was actually my grandmother’s name only she spelled it Ilah. I have never been able to find it spelled that way in any baby name books – so now I wonder if her parents heard the name “Isla” and thought it was spelled Ilah? Interesting.

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Ellen June 23, 2011 at 1:22 AM

My Great-Aunt’s name is Ila, I think they spelled it that way so it was easier to pronounce. I named my 6 month old daughter Isla Clementine and I still love it – I think it’s such a pretty, girly name. I hope she thinks so too when she’s older and doesn’t hate me because she’ll probably always have to spell it!

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Julie February 29, 2012 at 7:44 AM

Ellen, I just adore your daughter’s name! So sweet! Isla and Clementine are two of my top 4 choices, though I have never thought of pairing them together. My other 2 choices are Avery and Rae.

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Sammy March 15, 2010 at 4:56 PM

I love the name Isla. My wife and I have a daughter named Anya and we are expecting her little sister. I think Anya and Isla sound really sweet together. Anyone think that sounds hokey? My wife is losing interest in the name, and I’m trying to convince her otherwise.

We live in the US and many those that we have consulted about the name use the spanish pronounciation, EES-Lah. I am hopelessly hooked on this name, but I wonder if the constant need to correct people will be harmful, or rather a memorable conversation piece. Or perhaps both?

We have about 5 months to make a decision. How far doth a man dare push the limits to convince his pregnant wife that Anya needs an Isla? I suppose a good benchmark would be the point when the pregnant wife threatens to relieve the zealous husband of his facilities needed to create a third child, yes?

What to do, what to do…

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UrbanAngel March 16, 2010 at 12:43 PM

I think it’s cute! Some might find a bit too matchy. I think if you stress the different syllables, it should be ok. In terms of of the pronunciation, it’s a 50/50 split. You’re always going to have to deal with it. I don’t think it can harm the child or person , it’s only going to be an annoying occurrence. Worst case scenario, she decides to use that pronunciation.But, it’s a 50/50 split, so it should still be ok to use. I love that name & half the people I’ve been around have said it as either EYE-luh or EES-lah. So, it should be ok . Overall, I don’t think it will be harmful to the kid at all. Just be prepared to correct people.

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appellationmountain March 17, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Anya and Isla are lovely together, Sammy!

I’m in Metro DC, in a community with a high percentage of Spanish speakers. I’m sure Isla would EES lah some of the time – but then, it isn’t as if it would be difficult to explain the correct pronunciation. It isn’t as if you’re naming her Ahyarekloujja, pronounced Bill.

The problem with Isla and Anya is that, should you have a third daughter, you’d have narrowed your pool of possible names. Anya, Isla and Una, maybe. Or Anya, Isla and Clea. But you’d need another vowel-heavy short name. And if a third doesn’t come readily to mind, it might make sense to steer clear of Isla, much as it is lovely.

Or not. But it’s a thought. Best wishes! :)

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victoria Canham March 1, 2010 at 9:59 AM

I love the name…. I have a daughter named Iyla…. I was going to spell it the traditional way but my 6 year old kept writing it with a ‘y’ as she uses pollyphonics at school! Thought I was being really different choosing her name but have met several iylas since (my daughter is 17 months now) it is certainly on the rise!!!

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Juliet February 15, 2010 at 2:13 PM

I LOVE this name. I have Isla Evangeline on my list. I’d love a Dylan, Eden & Isla one day. I LOVE this name. I detest the pronunciation EEs-lah . I’ve never come across Isla in SA & I don’t think it will ever be a popular name here, which is awesome

Overall, the name sounds absolutely gorgeous to me & I think it will wear well. I don’t think it will be the next Ava at all. Ironically, I can’t stand Ava & haven’t liked since I heard about it a couple of years ago

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Isla November 29, 2009 at 12:05 PM

I love my name! But I hate that nobody seems to be able to spell it when they hear it pronounced or say it right when they see it written down. Maybe it’s an English thing, ‘cos Scots and Americans never have any problem (unless they’re from a Spanish background).

And, by the way, I HATE being called Iz-la, although my nickname is Izzy. Weird, huh? Sadly, my name is becoming less unusual, and I may just become one in a crowd, instead of standing out :(.

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Catherine October 22, 2009 at 8:55 PM

Our daughter was born in May, Isla Audrey! Still happy with her name, although yesterday at the ped’s office, another approximately six month old baby girl was there, named, of course, Isla! LOL That was the first one I’d ever met though. I have no regrets. I am sure it will gain in popularity, but it is still a beautiful name. :) Big brother Ronan loves her to bits.

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Mom to Ronan January 11, 2010 at 3:15 PM

I realize you posted awhile ago, but I had to comment. I was researching Isla because it’s our number one girls name right now…. and I already have a son named Ronan!!

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appellationmountain January 11, 2010 at 4:14 PM

That’s fabulous – what a great sibset!

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Zoe March 19, 2009 at 12:00 PM

I have a 2 year old girl who we named Isla Rose. I love the name and it seems everyone else does. I always get comments on her name. I have come across a few other Isla’s since having my daughter but it doesn’t seem to be getting too popular(thank goodness!!) My first daughter i named Sophie and there are sooo many Sophie’s now!! I think Isla is a beautiful name and it suits her perfectly!!

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appellationmountain March 19, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Sophie and Isla make for a lovely pair of names for sisters, Zoe! I think you have a knack for choosing fashion-forward names – that’s not a bad thing, but you tend to inspire others! :)

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Catherine February 12, 2009 at 8:36 PM

My husband and I adore this name. I’m due with a girl in May and she has been Isla as soon as we found out I was pregnant. I think it fits beautifully with our son’s name – Ronan. I do fear for any skyrocketing in popularity, but I think that Lila is going to fill that spot far quicker.

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appellationmountain February 15, 2009 at 12:21 AM

Congratulations, Catherine! I love Ronan, too – there’s a toddler Ronan on our block. And Ronan and Isla together? That’s a great pairing.

Let us know when she arrives!

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Kat January 19, 2009 at 4:10 AM

This is a name I have recently fallen in love with. I find it wind-swept, tropical, and languidly beautiful. My husband pooh-poohs it, however, because he thinks everyone would call her EES-la, and she’d have to correct everyone her whole life (speaking as someone who has had to correct other people’s spellings of MY name my entire life, this is an argument that hits me where I live). So I’ve regrettably put her back on the shelf; pretty to look at, but not to touch.

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Jessa October 11, 2008 at 1:30 AM

My daughters name is Isla Juliet. She is almost a year old.
I dread the day when the name sky rockets. Im not into trendy or popular names and now all of a sudden Isla is popping up all over the boards. Its a little scary. I named Isla after my husbands Grandma. Im from Australia and even though Isla FIsher is Australian and Ive known of her my whole life basically, Ive never even considered her as a connection to the name. Strange.

I really do love Isla and I feel that it fits into a quirky old fashioned name rather than a trendy modern name. My other kids are Oscar and Beatrix and I think it fits in great.

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Emmy Jo August 23, 2008 at 3:41 AM

Isla was in my top 5 until I discovered there was an actress by this name. I’m so afraid we’ll see its popularity skyrocket over the next few years. That being said, though, it still makes a great alternative for Ella, Emma, and Ava, at least for the time being.

I agree with RockingFetal, though, that it doesn’t have the kind of known history I usually like in my favorite baby names.

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appellationmountain August 21, 2008 at 4:02 PM

That’s interesting – I only have access to the US ancestry.com – I should probably upgrade – and Isla first pops up closer to 1880. What strikes me as curious is that those early Islas often have surnames that are definitely not Scottish or English. While it happens all the time, I can’t imagine a non-Scottish parent becoming aware of the name so early.

Maybe there was something – a song, a poem – not well-known enough to survive into the 21st century, but enough to influence a handful of parents? Or hey, maybe some of those Islas just married guys from Germany and points East.

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Gemmy August 21, 2008 at 12:36 PM

Yes she was a Lila and that’s my first recollection of it too!

I think Van Morrison’s Gloria ruined it for me. It also feels very showy in a virtue-ish way but then I like Victoria and that is little different so…. ;)
Not one of the earliest bearers as she would have had to be born about 1900. You made me curious so I checked for Isla in ancestry.com, well England anyway and the first find is from 1840. For Islay, 1816.

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appellationmountain August 21, 2008 at 11:39 AM

Gemmy, you have a great grandmother called Isla? She must be one of the earliest bearers of the name. That’s fascinating!

And I think you’re quite right about Lila. The only time I remember hearing her before was in the old Sweet Valley High books – wasn’t the rich girl named Lilah? But she’s got a lot of buzz these days, that’s certain.

As for Gloria? I’m sure plenty of us thought that Hazel and Mabel were too moldy to revive, too – but if there’s one rule of baby naming, it’s that almost everything makes a comeback. ;)

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Gemmy August 21, 2008 at 3:58 AM

I CAN’T see Isla being the new Ava at all. I think the confusion with the Spanish word is also likely to impinge on any potential massive popularity in the United States. Now, Lila. There’s a name that’s going to be huge. It’s already gaining ground. I can see Lila being the next Ava for sure.

I have to groan at Gloria. It’s garish!

BTW Isla is my great grandmother’s name.

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Katharine August 20, 2008 at 7:02 PM

Hmm Isla… well Brits have been aware of Isla Fisher for quite a lot longer than Americans as she appeared in a popular Aussie soap screened here for a few years (and was often in celebrity magazines). In addition, the footballer Frank Lampard and athlete Paula Radcliffe have both named offspring Isla in the last couple of years – neither of which is particularly noteworthy but contribute to the name Isla percolating into our national psyche (and thus explain why she is – out of nowhere – charging up our charts to her current ranking of 70).

Personally, I am confused by my reaction to the name Isla. I hate following the crowd but am well aware that while I have a crush on the name now, I paid her no attention just a couple of short years ago. In the current climate, Isla sounds fresh yet old fashioned and is unfussy without being dull. I would most likely steer clear of her though as she is no doubt set to reach even greater heights of popularity and such a huge upsurge in usage would diminish her most appealing quality: mysteriousness.

Lol to Lola’s comment re. the Wedding Crashers sisters names! I had the exact same thought too – sisters called Clare, Gloria and not fogetting Christina (the bride) – how bizarre!! :-)

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rockingfetal August 20, 2008 at 5:44 PM

Now Olive, there’s a name I LOVE.

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appellationmountain August 20, 2008 at 10:57 AM

Scotlyn – GROAN! But I’m sure they’re out there.

RF, LOL at “name civilian.” And it *is* modern, which surprised me.

DH, you’re right – Isla feels like Mia and Ava – easy to wear with almost any last name and bound to have broad appeal. At the moment, Isla seems like a good substitute for parents dismayed to learn that Ava is in the Top Ten.

I can see the appeal of EES lah – I assumed that’s how it was pronounced, based on my tragic Spanglish.

As for Olive’s mama, I could find any news about when she & SBC were planning to tie the knot, but apparently they’re still happily engaged:

http://www.celebrity-gossip.net/celebrities/hollywood/isla-fisher-out-with-olive-206011/#blog

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rockingfetal August 20, 2008 at 2:45 AM

Isla is just okay to me, though I can see the appeal. What bothers me most is that I never heard this name until the actress. It seems oh-so modern and wholly tied to her. Personally, I prefer more history. While I can support and like many coincidental place names, having the name of an island/ country/ continent strikes me as a bit odd. I also think many a name civilian would get the pronunciation wrong. Maybe I have low expectations, but coming from the parent to Luckis and Esera – a.k.a Lucas and Ezra – I have my doubts.

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Natalie August 19, 2008 at 9:46 PM

I Love this name!!
It recently made it on to my fave names list.
I know a few little Isla’s here in Scotland but i still like it although it is popular here.
:)

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Another August 19, 2008 at 8:13 PM

DH – Island (or “Eesla”) isn’t any worse than Irelyn. Ha-ha. What about Scotlyn, for that matter?

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!!!DirtyHippy!!! August 19, 2008 at 5:45 PM

I can see the appeal of Isla, just like I can see the appeal of Ava and Mia. There’s something very modern and cross-cultural about these short, feminine names. Too bad they tend to explode in popularity.

And, maybe I’m showing my lack of sophistication here, but I think I like the EES-la pronunciation better. Would it really be that strange, in a world of Trinitys, Brooklyns, and Dakotas, to name your child Island?

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isla November 24, 2009 at 11:49 PM

My name is Isla i pronounce it the spanish way is-lah/ees-la…it bother me that a lot of people now think the ooonly way to pronounce it is i-lah like Isla Fisher. I personally think theres no right way to pronounce the name it dependes from where you come from i’m from Texas, US no one has ever pronounced my name i-la its always been the spanish/latin way just saying island in spanish. I LOVE pronouncing with the s instead of with out it. A lot of people have told me like my name as i say it

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Lola August 19, 2008 at 4:38 PM

Know what? I like Gloria better than Isla. Not that I think Isla’s awful or anything, she’s too “breathy” for me. Same problem I have with Seth & Hugh. She did, however, make a superb Gloria (even though I’m still trying to rationale sisters Claire & Gloria? Huh? What?) and is what spurred my re-interest in Gloria/Gloriana.

I ususally am wary of celebrity names, as in my family, you never know when someone’s going to do something stupid that will tarnish the name. She’s new enough that I still worry (but swoon over her daughter’s name: Olive!) Is she still engaged to Sasha? I don’t pay attenion to much celebrity gossip.

I do think Isla’s a lovely choice and a fairly comfortable one at that. Easy to spell and not too hard to figure out. Once you’ve got it, it’s memorable. And again, it beats a good handful of names in the top 50!

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Another August 19, 2008 at 1:47 PM

I love it. I do, I do, I do. I also love Ayla, but when I was a child reading Clan of the Cave Bear, I was also a Spanish student, ans pronounced it the same as Isla. That said, when I see the frequency with which Isla pops up on Y!A, I’m tempted to forget it. Not that I have anything against a popular name (son = Ethan James) but it’s more that I don’t want anything to do with certain people… Bashing aside, I do like this name a lot, but because my last name starts with L, it would most likely never be agreed to by DH – if we ever even get around to having a daughter. :)

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