Itziar (Photo credit: LeireAizpuru)

It’s another Marian appellation, this time with an exotic sound.

Thanks to Iciar for suggesting her name as our Baby Name of the Day.

Basque names are tricky.  Very few have gone mainstream – though Xavier has certainly become popular, even amongst those who have never heard of the region.  Basque country crosses the Pyrenees, spanning France and Spain.  Both countries recognize the areas as a specific governmental unit, with at least some independent rights.

The groups lost autonomy over the years, and the nationalist movement has been active for some time, gaining momentum in the 1960s and 1970s.  It suggests a familiar pattern – parents choose names that reflect the wider culture at certain points, then as the trend reverses, seek to rediscover – or create – culturally relevant names for their children.  In Spain, Basque names were actually forbidden at one point.  The most popular names in the Basque region of Spain are reported separately, and they are different: Iker, Unai, Oier, Unax, Eniko for boys, and Irati, Nahia, Izaro, Uxue, and Leire for girls. 

I’m not sure how many of these names would have been used in the Middle Ages, or even in the eighteenth century.  When it comes to Basque language and even names, late nineteenth century nationalist Sabino Arana did much to help define the language, including names that feel appropriately Basque, though standard Basque is very young, officially established in the 1960s.

But Iciar – also spelled Iziar and Itziar – is more than just a Basque heritage choice.  She’s also a place name, and a Marian name, too – a name associated with the Virgin Mary.  This puts her in the company of Lourdes and Loreto.

Her pronunciation in both Basque and Spanish, in any spelling, is roughly itz EE ahr – surprisingly straightforward, though some suggest the first syllable is more of an ish sound.

Itziar is a tiny town high in the Pyrenees, and isolated today.  A few possible meanings are:

  • Old stone – possibly a reference to the site where families would pray for the safe return of fishermen
  • High point facing the sea
  • Sight from top of the peak

The village is mentioned in writing as early as the eleventh century, and the church dedicated to the Virgin of Itziar has stood for centuries.  The current one dates to the 1600s, believed to be on the site of an earlier structure built in the 1200s, and the location may have been sacred even in pre-Christian times.  Itziar doesn’t appear to have any specific status today – the church is often listed as being located in Deba, or Gipuzkoa – still very remote parts of the world.

By now you may have guessed why this hamlet remains significant over the centuries.  Pilgrims following the Way of St. James travel through Itziar en route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, believed to be the resting place for the remains of the popular saint.  In the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage was nearly as significant as visits to Jerusalem and Rome.  There’s more than one version of the route, traversed over a thousand years, and today it is considered a European Cultural Route and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s also the inspiration behind 2010’s The Way, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

She’s rich with meaning and easier to pronounce than you might think.  In the middle spot, Iciar would be intriguing.  And if your heritage argues for a Basque name with spiritual significance, then Iciar is one to consider.


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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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