She’s a rarity recently overheard on a Brooklyn playground.

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Isaura as Baby Name of the Day.

Plenty of ancient locations, many long gone from the map, survive as given names. There’s Lydia and Delphine and Adrian, too. Isaura shares her origins with these names.

Modern day Turkey was once home to a people known as the Isaurians. They were a contentious tribe, fighting amongst themselves and terrorizing their neighbors. In the first century BC, the Romans attempted to bring the unruly Isaurians under their control. It took four centuries for it to take.

Or maybe it is more accurate to say that the Isaurians ultimately conquered their conquerors. Fifth century Byzantine Emperor Zeno hailed from Isauria. From 711 to 802, the Isaurian Dynasty ruled the Byzantines, beginning with Leo III and ending with the gory story of the ruthless Irene.

The masculine moniker Isaurus first surfaces sometime in the third century, when a martyr was beheaded in Macedonia, along with a group of early saints.

I’m not certain when the first Isaura was born, and I’ll have to guess at her pronunciation. In my best American English, I say eye SAWR ah – not a pretty sound, sort of like “I sawr a brown cow in that there field over yonder.” But I’m guessing the Spanish sounds more like ee SOH rah, instantly transforming her from awkward to glamorous.

And you’ll inevitably hear Isaura said with a Spanish or Portuguese pronunciation because A Escrava Isaura is an 1875 novel that’s been making waves for decades.

Bernardo Guimarães’ late nineteenth century novel tells the tale of a biracial Brazilian slave girl on a coffee plantation, from her myriad sufferings to her eventual happy ending. The author became a star in his native country, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that Isaura became an international sensation.

Telenovela Escrava Isaura debuted in 1976. Viewers tuned in to watch if the noble, innocent Isaura would be forced to become her owner’s concubine, if she’d marry Melchior the dwarf to escape cruel fate, or if she’d somehow manage to marry her true love, Alvaro.

Not only was the show a hit in Brazil, but it spread throughout South America and Europe. In the 1980s, it became the first soap opera broadcast in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It even aired in Africa and China. Brazilian actress Lucélia Santos became major international star for her portrayal of Isaura. (Though Santos would still probably wait for table at a Cracker Barrell in US.)

The original series ran through 1977. In 2004, the telenovela was rebooted, again for Brazilian television. Once again, it has spread well beyond Brazil, and can be seen in Europe and the Middle East. A Spanish version has been broadcast in the US by Telemundo. This time, Isaura is played by Bianca Rinaldi.

Sharing her sounds with Isabella, it is no surprise that Isaura is starting to surface. Nancy reports that 38 girls received the name in 2009. But I’m guessing that most of them have brothers called Diego and Santiago. It’s not unthinkable for non-Latino parents to consider Isaura, but the sound seems more appealing if you expect to sing your lullabies en español – or at least can cite a grandparent from somewhere in Latin America.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. All my life I told people to call me ‘eye-SOAR-uh’ only because my teacher tried pronouncing my name in kindergarten and I just stuck with it because I don’t know how my name would be pronounced in english :).. I never liked my name and it has always infuriated me of how many teachers/substitute teachers butcher my name beyond comprehension haha.. guess I’ll tell everyone how to CORRECTLY pronounce my name after 20+ years of mispronunciation :)…

  2. Isaura is also my name and its pronounced ee zow rah – I’ve always had trouble with pronunciation and spelling so opted to go by my middle name but now I regret it. I should have insisted, anyway I like it and that’s what matters.