She’s an exotic goddess name, and since the 1990s, she’s been worn by a growing number of baby girls in the US, too.
Thanks to Meredith for suggesting Isis as our Baby Name of the Day.
File Isis with Imogen and Cedric – names that were morphed and mangled into something different.
Isis started out as something like Ueset, Aset, or Iset – the Egyptians didn’t write down their vowels, so it is left to guesswork, though scholars are fairly certain that the Greeks added the -s ending. Egyptologists pronounce the name ee set or ee sah; in American English eye sis is the norm.
By any name, Isis was a powerful figure. The Egyptians gave her dominion over fertility and magic, children and the sky. She was said to hear the prayers of slaves and kings alike. The annual flooding of the Nile was attributed to tears she shed over the death of her husband Osiris.
Her cult spread well beyond Ancient Egypt. Isis was worshipped throughout the Greco-Roman world until advent of Christianity.
Creative types have long found Isis irresistible. Jean-Baptiste Lully titled his 1677 opera Isis, though the subject strayed from Egyptian myth. In the opera version, philandering Jupiter is having an affair with Io. Jealous Juno kidnaps and tortures Io until Jupiter brokers a deal – he’ll stay faithful; Io will be transformed into the goddess Isis.
It’s almost an insult to find that there’s not a better operatic adaptation of her tale.
But there’s a San Diego theater that wore the name, and a fabulous Bob Dylan song called “Isis,” about a man’s marriage to a mysterious woman. There’s a White Stripes cover, too, suggesting that Isis could yet be discovered by another generation of parents.
That same generation knows Isis as a super hero.
Depending on when you grew up, you might recall CBS’ Saturday morning live action series The Secrets of Isis. Isis predated Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman, making her the first live action superheroine to have her own show. Mild-mannered science teacher Andrea Thomas is on a archeological dig in Egypt when she discovers a magical amulet that transforms her into the crime fighting goddess Isis.
The character lived on in a DC Comics series. Marvel Comics also modeled a hero on the goddess, as did Bluewater Comics.
But the most visible Isis in recent years was 2008 America’s Next Top Model contestant Isis King. The series is always known for interesting appellations – King’s fellow contestants included a girl called Clark and an Analeigh. King was truly intriguing – she’s the first transgendered woman to compete on the show, and remains quite visible.
The name, however, is slipping. While she still ranked #614 in 2009, that’s down from her peak of #522 in 2005. Isis likely appeals to parents eager to avoid Christian and Anglo-Saxon associations, though she’s not much of a heritage choice. Her sound is compatible with the chart-topping Isabella, as well as the botanical Iris, but more exotic than either.
She’s daring and distinctive, but is still more common than many a goddess name.