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.

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