A Escrava Isaura (novel)
A Escrava Isaura (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is she a respelling of the Spanish Isaura, or is there something more to this intriguing appellation?

Thanks to Maria for suggesting Izora as our Baby Name of the Day.

Izora instantly looked familiar to me, and if you’ve spent too much time reading the Social Security Administration statistics, she might pop to you, too.  Izora ranked most years from 1880 to 1912.  She was never wildly popular, but there was, quietly in use for three decades.

There are two possible origins for Izora.  The first is that she’s simply a re-spelling of Isaura.  Isaura keeps company with Lydia and Delphine and Adrian – a name inspired by an ancient place name.  Isaurus first surfaces in the third century.

In 1875, Spanish novel A Escrava Isaura debuted.  Bernardo Guimarães tells the tale of a Brazilian slave girl on a coffee plantation, from her myriad sufferings to her eventual happy ending.  Telenovela Escrava Isaura debuted in 1976.  Viewers tuned in to watch if the noble Isaura would be forced to become her owner’s concubine 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.  The original series ran through 1977.  In 2004, the telenovela was rebooted, again for Brazilian television, once again seen throughout the world.

Here’s the hitch: I doubt that the novel would have been widely known in 1880 America.  It wasn’t adapted for the stage, and I can’t confirm if it was ever translated into English.

What is clear is that -ora ending names was a popular category in the era.

From the 1880 Top 100, there’s:

With additional names ranked in the Top 1000: Ora, Lora, Lenora, Elnora, Leora, Zora, Leonora, and Eldora.  A few others that chart during Izora’s run include Theodora, Thora, Aurora, Clora, and Isadora.  This list is a mix.  The more popular names remain familiar today, and some have roots that most of us will immediately recognize, like Aurora’s Roman goddess of the dawn.  But some of these are almost certainly inventions.

Not only did the -ora names all appear clustered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they fell as a group, too.  Izora fell harder and faster, and today is obscure to the point of non-existence.

In 2010, the only -ora names to chart are Nora, Cora, and Kimora.

All of this makes me suspect that -ora was her generation’s -ayla or -aylee.  Just as we can offer meanings for Kayla and Haylee and even fabrications like Haylynn, it is tempting to look for meanings and origins for invented names of the past.  But in some cases they must be little more than parents matching up appealing sounds.

One famous Izora comes to mind: Izora Armstead, a member of The Weather Girls, the 80s pop group responsible for “It’s Raining Men.”

There’s also a flowering plant genus, ixora, more commonly called West Indian Jasmine.  I’ve yet to find anyone named Ixora, but it isn’t unthinkable.

File Izora under nineteenth centuries rarities that feel slightly out of place today.  She’s perfectly wearable, especially if you happen to a great-grandmother Izora.  But unlike Nora and Cora, she’s unlikely to stage a comeback on her own.

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. What a lovely name, Jennifer! And how nice to find such an unexpected gem on your family tree. 🙂

  1. My great grandmother’s name was Izora Ella Southerland. she was born in 1859. Her mother was named Callie Jenkins and her father was George Southerland. Izora married Edward Milton Newton and they lived in Texas.

  2. My great grandmother’s middle name was Izora, as well (she hated it, I am told). She was named after an aunt, whose first name was Izora. This was all somewhat earlier than you have quoted previously. My great grandmother, Elizabeth Izora, was born in 1875, and her Aunt Izora was born in 1858. The father’s background was Swiss, and the mother’s German. They lived in Pennsylvania. Izora’s sisters were Clara, Sarah Jane, Mary Emma, Katherine Elizabeth, Anna and Minnie. I do think the parents stepped out of the mother’s German culture for names. I’m trying to figure out of they went to the father’s Swiss culture…

  3. A little bit of fishing on Izora in Spanish. I found people referring to the plant ixora with the spelling isora. Not much to go from there to a z. I think it very well could have been Spanish that influenced the name, even if it wasn’t necessarily Isaura that was the source.

  4. I can imagine more than one pronunciation on this name. “ih ZOR uh” or “eye ZOR uh” or “ih SOR uh” or maybe just a feminine interpretation of Ezra “IH zur uh” or even “EYE zur uh”. I want to believe there’s a historical etymology out there for the name and that it wasn’t just an invention by someone who wanted a different ‘ora’ name.

    Love the info on Isaura, by the way.

  5. What a cool, interesting name! It kind of reminds me of a combination of my twin sister’s name and mine… Sarah and Laura…. neat!

  6. Love those -ora names. I would want to spell this Isora in English, to soften the Z sound to S (iss or ah).

  7. Funny that you mentioned it– my great-grandmother’s name was Blanche Izora. She would have been born in the early 1910s in North Carolina. Her family called her “Zorie.” I took a look at the family tree, and the women on both sides of her family had less traditional names– no Mary, Elizabeth, or Catherine’s. Instead they were Lura, Asenath, Pharaby, Candace, Angeline, & Matilda.

    I’m a few years from starting a family, but I don’t see why Izora wouldn’t be wearable today, especially with the nickname Zorie. Fits right in with Isadora and Coraline.

    1. I can’t believe I never thought of Zorie as a nickname. That is fabulous, and yes I agree – with the nn Zorie, she’s perfectly wearable. And you clearly have some name nerd DNA in your family tree … what great names! The only one I don’t recognize is Pharaby. It reminds me of Ladusky, another rarity from the early 20th century.

      1. Oooo Pharaby!!! Pheriby is a name that was used on quite a few women in my family back in the 1700s-1800s…even earlier generations it was Pherreba. I have it on my list in the middle name spot…I love how it is unusual but not too out-there because of its similarity to names like Phoebe, Charity, Shelby…

        @Abby, you actually did some research on Pheriby for me about a year ago. You even used it as an example of a real rarity in one of your nameberry posts…https://nameberry.com/blog/unusual-baby-names-real-rare-and-invented

    2. Ha! So interesting! Izora was my great grandmother’s middle name too, also born in the 1910s, but a little further north in Pennsylvania. =) Despite my in-laws’ hesitance, I named my newborn daughter this. I just adore the nickname Zorie. Izzy still doesn’t feel quite right to me, especially since it is so common now with the onslaught of Isabelles. I’m going to try Zorie out for a while if you don’t mind! (Especially since it rhymes with my husband’s name. =P)

      Thank you for posting!

  8. Thanks so much for covering Izora! I’m going to show my family the post. I still like the combination of Izora Fern.

  9. A Escrava Isaura is a Brazilian, not Spanish, novel. (I’ve just checked the article on Isaura, you don’t make this mistake there…)

    And by the way, the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation of Isaura would be i-ZOW-rah (ow like in now or cow), so I’m having a really hard time seeing Izora as a respelling of Isaura… Although, if one were to guess the pronunciation, it wouldn’t be terribly far off. I do agree that it’s most likely a case of name invention based on popular sounds. 🙂

    Oh, I like the -ora names! I absolutely adore Theodora; Lenora, Leora, and Eldora are also lovely; and Ixora could be a fun option!

    1. In English -or and -aur are pronounced the same frequently, such as Lora and Laura. Someone seeing the name written could easily jump from Isaura to Izora when hearing it.

      1. Oh, I know, which is why I said “if one were to guess the pronunciation”. I’m sorry I wasn’t very clear. 🙁