If the classic Elizabeth strikes you as plain, perhaps this medieval variant will appeal.

In honor of my sister Bo’s birthday, today’s Name of the Day is Isabeau.

Suggest naming a daughter Beau on a message board, and at least a dozen replies will inform you that Beau is a boy’s name. And in French, it is masculine for beautiful. Belle, they will insist, is for girls.

This is all true, and what’s more, since the 1700s, it’s been a way to refer to one’s suitor. In 1936’s Gone With the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara has handsome beaux – plural – though her rival, Melanie, has a son called Beauregard, nickname Beau.

And yet Isabeau remains a valid variant of Elizabeth. The Hebrew Elisheva became the Greek Elisabet. Some suggest that the Spanish interpreted the name as El Isabet, and so we find Isabel, Ysabel and Isabeau throughout the Middle Ages. In Renaissance Italy, you might even stumble on an Isabetta.

It’s Elizabeth that is least common, at least until the reign of England’s Elizabeth I. Isabel was in favor before her ascendancy, with Isabeau also in use.

The best known bearer of the name was Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France through her marriage to Charles VI from 1385 to 1422. Some have argued that Isabeau was a nickname – apparently her baptismal certificate reads Elisabeth, a name shared by others in her family.

She was far from the first Isabeau in the historical record. Aristocractic Isabeaus can be found throughout Medieval France, several of them born well before Charles VI took a bride. In the late 1100s, “Belle Isabeau” was a popular troubadour’s song.

The name continued in use for several centuries. In the Spa, Belgium witch trials of 1616, an Isabeau is among the convicted. In the 1700s and 1800s, Isabeaus appear in the records of France, as well as Canada and the US, especially Louisiana.

Pietro Mascagni chose the name for the heroine of his 1911 opera Isabeau, based on the medieval legend of Lady Godiva.

Authors have used the name to signify a work’s medieval setting ever since. The 1985 film Ladyhawke features Michelle Pfeiffer as Isabeau d’Anjou, cursed to assume the form of a hawk during daylight, while her beloved is a wolf by night. Kate Forsyth’s Witches of Eileanan series features an Isabeau.

Today, Isabeau is quite rare. She’s never appeared in the US Top 1000 and only a few uses are recorded in France. But she’s not unknown. 2007’s Season Four of The Biggest Loser included an Isabeau. And the name surfaces from time to time as an alternative to Isabella.

If there’s an Elizabeth you’d love to honor, Isabeau could present an interesting twist on that classic. With her “o” ending, she’s surprisingly current. With Isabella at the top of the charts, Isabeau sounds less daring than she might have twenty years ago.

This is one medieval moniker that just might wear well on a modern girl.

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness features a fairly prominent Ysabeau. There are so many great names in the series.

  2. Isabeau is a pretty name, I’ve had it for 18 years now ( my mother liked the name from Ladyhawke)… But all during my schooling the teachers could never say it right.. Its rather annoying having it shortened to Izzy(which I hate) , Beau (sounds like a boys name, and theres two boys called Beau in one of my classes =.=) or even worse it once got shortened to Isa or IzzyBeau. Trust me, its not worth the pain of having to continuely correct how people say Isabeau. (iz-a bo, Is-ah-boe and Is-a-boo) . I just wish it was my middle name instead of my first name.

    1. My name’s Isabeau Alora (same name sake on the first name, and the movie “Willow” for my middle), and I’ve gone by “Beau” my whole life I introduce myself as that for the most part, and when people say “That’s a boy’s name”, I just kind of laugh and stand a little taller. All “Beau” is is an interpretation of “beautiful”, and it’s a strong, powerful name. “Is-a-beau”tiful lady ❤️

  3. I adore Isabeau! I have a soft spot for Isabel (though I despise Isabella), so it’s probably attached to that. I love Isabel for her class and softness, and then Isabeau brings a heap of jazz on top of that 🙂

  4. Fantastic. I love the way it manages to be traditionally strong, yet feminine. There’s something quite stately and regal about the transition from the soft ‘Isa’ to the strong ‘beau.’ This reminds me of the French medieval name Aude, which gained in hipster popularity in that country in the late 90’s (not sure how popular it is now.)

  5. I adore the name Isabeau- it is the great combo of rare and pretty!
    I would use it in a heartbeat as a middle, maybe even as a first.
    Then again, I love medieval names, so of course Isabeau’s not for everyone.

  6. Awww, that’s awful, Kat! Maybe as a middle, then? Wouldn’t be quite so “clowny”. As the image of a clown named Isabeau brought a smile to my face. I have a cousin who’s a clown. 😀

  7. talk about fangirl extreme – our last name is Bilbo!

    So not only is it also a name that evokes a well known movie, it’s the exact same last syllable. believe me, I’ve tried to talk myself into it. I love the name Beau as well, but that would be Beau Bilbo. I feel like s/he’d have to be a circus clown or a stand up comedian.

  8. Hah, Kat! Ladyhawke was where I heard it first, but later learned about Isabeau of Bavaria. Either way, I am quite fond of Isabeau. I’d love to use it but he immediately thinks of LadyHawke and declares me fangirl extreme. (to be fair, it is one of my favorite movies, so romantic, that doomed pair; even Rutger Hauer doesn’t bother me any here).

    I really do like Isabeau and would love the opportunity to use it and potentially call her Beau, rather than the omnipresent Bella/Izzy’s around here. Nice, standout and with a lovely historical background, Isabeau’s a real winner!

    Kat, it would work with your surname, as long as the O ender in question isn’t the same syllable count as Isabeau. My surname ends with an -ee sound and I don’t discount names ending with that same sound for me, why should you cut out all O enders?

  9. This is one of my favorite names of all time – I remember watching Ladyhawke many times in the 80s and marveling at Michelle Pfieffer. She was luminous, and I think of her every time I see this name.
    Unfortunately, our last name ends in “o”, and I fear the rhyming alliteration would be comical rather than lovely.