Thanks to JNE for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Baby name Isadora sounds like a cousin to long-standing Top Ten pick Isabella, a form of the Hebrew Elisheva, also the source of Elizabeth.
Or maybe the ador in the middle of the name makes you think of names that mean love.
Neither are correct.
Instead, it comes from Isidoros, a name of Greek origin honoring the Egyptian goddess Isis. That second syllable is shared with Theodore – doron, meaning gift.
And so the baby name Isadora means “gift of Isis.”
A major figure in Egyptian religion, the exact nature of Isis evolved over the centuries. She’s involved with death and the afterlife, magic and wisdom, and the sky. She’s a protector of the pharaoh and many stories about Isis involve motherhood.
And, just to be clear, those cosmopolitan ancient Greeks adopted the goddess Isis and adapted her image to fit their worldview and religious practices. Eventually, her worship spread throughout the Roman Empire, too.
Since it’s a feminine form of Isidore, alt spelling Isidora might be more logical, but the ‘a’ version that has long been more common.
The exact meaning of the name Isis is debated. Some speculate it comes from the Egyptian word for “throne,” but the name’s origin remains uncertain.
Names of the ancient gods and goddesses didn’t always survive in the Christian world. But when they did, it was often because an early Christian saint bore the name.
That’s true for Isidora.
In the fourth century, the story of the future Saint Isidora sounds a little like a Cinderella story. A local religious leader had a vision from God to find a holy woman, and set out to visit her convent. The sisters presented themselves, but the leader declared it wasn’t any of them. Instead, it was the much-mocked sister who spent her days in the kitchen.
Mad, simple, or driven by faith, Isidora preferred wearing rags to habits, and eating scraps to meals. Others dismissed her as unworthy, but the visitor immediately recognized her as the holy woman from his vision.
Isidora lived out her days, not in a royal castle, but as a hermit.
There were several male saints Isidore, too. It was more than enough to keep the baby name Isidora in sparing use.
The baby name Isadora is found across cultures and languages.
It’s ranked in the Top Ten in Chile in recent years, and occurs in several Slavic languages, too. But it’s uncommon in all of them, even if you might hear it from Iceland to Italy.
Credit the saint, but also a handful of figures from pop culture, that reminded us that it’s a potential girl’s name.
No question, though, that dancer Isadora Duncan remains the most famous bearer of the name, even decades following her death.
Born in 1877, the future legend was born Angela Isadora Duncan. Her mother shared the middle name; she was Mary Isadora.
Duncan started out in New York before heading to Paris, where she became a star. Widely considered one of the founders of modern dance, rejecting ballet in favor of a more natural, improvisational style, she remains influential today.
Her contributions to the world of dance would make her memorable, but it’s her personal life – both scandalous and tragic – that so often captures our imagination.
The most famous story concerns her death. Leaving for an excursion in an open-top car, Duncan donned one of her signature flowing scarves. As the car drove away, the scarf became entangled with the axle. It dragged her from the car, and she was killed.
References to her legacy are everywhere. Her life inspired a perfume, two ballets, a stage play, multiple novels – the most recent in 2017, and several films – including one in 2016, where the dancer is played by Lily-Rose Depp.
In Talking Heads’ song “Pscyho Killer,” David Burns sings what a lyric based on her reputed final words: je me lance vers la gloire – I am off to find glory.
FEAR of FLYING
Erica Jong’s 1973 bestseller Fear of Flying is the story of Isadora Wing. Wing is a poet and writer who is literally afraid of air travel, but also torn about whether to leave her husband for a lover.
It’s considered a feminist classic today, but it was downright shocking in 1973.
Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that the popularity of the name Isadora didn’t change in respond to the novel.
On a lighter note, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events includes siblings named Isadora and Duncan Quagmire. Isadora Quagmire is a poet, and with her siblings, heir to the Quagmire sapphires.
The first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events was published in 1999, and the last in 2006. Movie adaptations and a Netflix series have kept the stories – and the characters – very much on the minds of a new generation of young people. And the books, of course, have remained popular.
While they’re dark and sometimes even bleak, the series is dark humor. Many of the character names – Esme and Violet, Arthur and Hugo – are quite stylish.
The numbers suggest that this series might’ve helped the baby name Isadora transition from out-there rarity to real possibility for baby girls in the US.
BY the NUMBERS
In the year 2000, just 40 girls received the baby name Isadora.
By 2005, that doubled to 81. And it continued to climb in use among baby girl names, reaching 132 births in 2006.
One reason Isadora soared? The baby name Isabella skyrocketed in the same era. It entered the US Top Ten in 2004 and hasn’t left yet, spending 2009 to 2010 at #1.
Still, the baby name Isabella has cooled slightly, and so has Isadora. It’s down to 145 births in 2022, well outside of the US Top 1000.
CREATIVE and GLAM
Of course, that might signal an opportunity.
The name of the Egyptian goddess Isis is off limits these days, associated with organized terror. But Isadora sidesteps that problem nicely.
It shortens to nicknames like Izzy and Isa, as well as Dora or Dory, but can easily be used in full. At a stretch, Isadora might even take the nickname Sadie from those middle letters.
From ancient Egypt to a series of saints, Isadora is a rich and complex name. Isadora Duncan lends the name serious creative spirit. Isadora Wing might signal a particular world view and wish for independence. It reads creative, glamorous, and bohemian.
Isadora makes a logical substitute for Isabella, or for any of the longer names for girls that are so popular now.
If you’re seeking a rare but familiar name for a daughter, with an elaborate sound and creative vibe, Isadora belongs on your list.
What do you think of the baby name Isadora?
This post was originally published on December 27, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on August 28, 2016 and again on June 6, 2023.