Maya stucco glyphs diplayed in the museum at P...
Maya stucco glyphs; Image via Wikipedia

Did you honeymoon in Cozumel?  If so, this might just be the perfect name for a long-awaited daughter.

Thanks to Kelleita for suggesting Itzel as our Baby Name of the Day.

Most assume that Itzel’s roots are Mayan, but before we go too far into that story, it is worth noting that there’s a second explanation for Itzel. At some point, Itzel was also used as a diminutive for Isaac, and so surfaces as a surname from time to time.

Choose Itzel for a child today, and most will assume you’ve just named your daughter.  Pronunced eet SEHL, she’s reminiscent of the Spanish verison of Isabellaees sa BELL ah.

Itzel probably derives from the Maya goddess Ix Chel – a jaguar goddess, charged with fertility and rain, midwifery, and medicine.  She’s something of a crone, a wise woman, often depicted sporting bones and claws.

Many baby name guides confidently list Itzel’s meaning as “rainbow” or “rainbow lady.”  Ix Chel was responsible for rains and floods, and chel is linked to rainbow.  It was in use in the 1500s, but we don’t have a clear sense of the name’s evolution, and other explanations are possible.

What’s certain is her significance: Maya women hoping for a child would make a pilgrimage to Ix Chel’s sanctuary.

Given the sufferings of the Maya people, it is tempting to see Itzel as a name that signifies remembrance and survival, but that might be a stretch.  What’s certain is that Itzel was rediscovered sometime in the twentieth century, first by Mexican parents.  In 1993, she entered the US Top 1000 at #868, climbing to #512 the following year.  She’s risen and fallen, but stands today at a relatively common #397.

It’s the kind of story that suggests a telenovela is at work, and indeed, there have been Itzels all over the small screen of the Spanish-speaking world.  But unlike many popular names, there’s no single use that tracks with Itzel’s rise.  Instead, there’s a scattering of minor figures, all too late to be the cause of Itzel’s rise.  The same is true for the handful of pageant contestants answering to Itzel in the early 2000s.

One possible reference is Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek, a 1991 short story collection.  In “One Holy Night,” Ixchel is a tweenaged immigrant living in Chicago, who falls for a much older man, a conniving figure who insists he’s a Mayan prince, when he’s actually a murderous fiend.

The timing is right, but I suspect Cisneros was borrowing a name already in use, not introducing a new option.  Along with Ytzel, Itzel is heard, mostly among Latino families in the US.

Itzel reminds me of Saoirse – it is an authentic option for Spanish-speaking parents today, but if your family has been in the US for several generations, there probably aren’t any Itzels on your family tree.  And yet it almost only works if you’re not too far removed from your roots.

Properly pronounced, Itzel is a pretty, intriguing choice for a daughter, but she may not be the most portable option.

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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What do you think?


  1. At first glance I thought Itzel would be Yiddish à la Tzeitel. (My second thought was of schnitzel, but it’s suppertime and I’m hungry.) Anyways, it’s very a very interesting name and Magdalene Itzel is gorgeous.

    1. I’m fairly certain that Itzel is a Jewish nickname for Isaac, but I couldn’t pin down his exact origins – so maybe that’s part of the vibe.

      1. Isaac in Hebrew is Yitzhak and in Yiddish Itzik. There are two ways to create diminutives in Yiddish, and the first is by adding or substituting an l at the end – thus Itzl, Faigel (Faige), Gitl (Gita), Raisl (Raisa), Mendel (Mende). The way to make it more diminutive “my dear little _” is eh – Itzeleh, Faigeleh, etc. Don’t confuse these with Hebrew names ending in -el though.

        I know a girl with Mexican parents named Itze. It’s a great name, and it suits her so well as she looks just like a Classical Mayan drawing!

  2. Itzel is a pretty name, but apart from the fact that I don’t think I’m pronouncing it correctly, I think it’s too far removed from my own cultural background for me to feel comfortable using it. Yes, I know Roseanna is sometimes said to be Spanish, but our Roseanna is named after her Francophone/Metis grandmother.

  3. the wild side of Cozumel is so otherworldly, I can understand why women would appeal to the goddess there. Had I married a Mayan (or Mexican) man, I certainly would consider this lovely, unusual name.

  4. Magdalene Itzel is lovely, but for some reason I keep wanting to say “itchy.” Weird…

    And, Nick and Mariah are having twins? As a twin, I think the number of celebrity twin babies is absolutely absurd. Seriously? Craziness.

  5. Thanks for doing this, Abby! I forgot I had requested it. We’ve pretty much narrowed down our girls’ name to Magdalene and are now on the hunt for a middle. Magdalene Itzel has an interesting ring to it. We’ll see…. (For the record, my husband is Mexican, so using Itzel would fit our child’s heritage.) Sometimes when I read it though, I see Intel — like the software. Hmm… I think it’s really pretty though.

    1. I think that Magdalene Itzel is lovely and I don’t see Intel at all. I think properly pronounced Itzel is lovely but I don’t speak Spanish and mangle it a bit.

  6. Ah, Itzel is so pretty when pronounced properly. Like Xochitl, the middle name slot might be better, lest she’s called ITZ-zul or something along those lines.

    I like that you don’t bump into one every time you turn around, and that she has literary and historical ties.

  7. So interesting! I wanted to tell you that the writer’s name is Sandra Cisneros, not Susan Cisneros. I wrote my thesis on her so I must have said her name a thousand times! I love her work…

    1. Thanks, Janet – I’ve fixed it! I’ve never read the short story, but I remember loving The House on Mango Street, and it seems like the themes are similar.