A few days back, we discussed colonial cool Ethan. Today, we turn to another name associated with the 1700s and the American Revolution – but one as rare as Ethan is popular.
Thanks to Emmy Jo for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Isannah.
We’ll confess that Isannah’s exact origins have us stumped. Here’s what we know: she was definitely in use in the 1700s and 1800s, and was well enough known that Esther Forbes picked up on the name for her 1943 novel about the American Revolution Johnny Tremain. In the book, Isannah Lapham is stunningly pretty. Her looks become her ticket to a higher social status. While she’s not a noble character, it must be said that her name is intriguing, and has continued to inspire at least a few parents through the ages.
But Isannah was not invented by the author. Instead, we suspect that Ms. Forbes plucked Isannah from the very real Paul Revere’s family. He named his eighth child (of sixteen!) Isannah. Since the fictional Johnny meets the historical Paul in the novel, we assume that the author’s research would have turned up the Revere family tree.
Isannah Revere died in childhood, just a year after her 1772 birth, but she was far from the only bearer of the name. US Census records suggest that the name was steadily in use through the 1800s, and we even stumbled across a portrait of a Boston-dwelling young Isannah circa 1795.
Colonial America was big on lesser-used Biblical monikers, so the Good Book was a logical starting place and we combed its page. But no dice. We did turn up Sansannah – a palm branch – but that one didn’t catch on as a given name.
It appears that Isannah was, in fact, invented sometime in the 1700s. We doubt it was Revere himself who coined the name. His other children wore Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, John and other sturdy, predictable and popular appellations of the time.
While the 1700s were not the hotbed of Madisyn/Railee/Kaysen that we live in today, some creativity in baby names has always been the norm. Given the popularity of Deborah, Hannah, Susannah, Sarah and Deborah, Isannah follows logically.
Some have suggested that Isannah is a variant of Ysanne, which appears to be a French combination of Ysabel or Yseult and Anne. Only trouble? Ysanne is at least as rare as Isannah, and we can’t turn up a reference to Ysanne prior to the 20th century.
But virtually every American school student has been assigned Johnny Tremain sometime in their education, and just as we pick up on names used in movies and television, literature has always been a rich vein of inspiration for expectant parents. While Isannah has never charted in the US Top 1000, we do find mentions of girls wearing the name throughout recent years.
We’re not confident of her pronunciation – we’ve heard eye SAN ah, ee SAN ah, EYE sahn ah and EE sahn ah. But in any form, we quite like this choice. She’s rare, but literary. And in a world overrun with Isabellas, this is another option that is similar but distinct. Let’s not forget that Isaiah and Isaac are also Top 50 choices for boys. Is is a hot first syllable.
If you’re looking for a quintessentially American name with a current sound, Isannah is certainly one to consider.
Hello there! It’s been almost seven years since this post on Isannah, and true to what I wrote in 2008, Isannah has continued to be a favorite name of mine. My husband and I recently had a baby girl named Isannah (ee-SAHN-ah) Arden, nicknamed Isa (ee-sa), on March 15. She’s a little sister for Eben (also named after finding an AppMtn post on the name). Keep up the great research and writing, Abby—Appellation Mountain has definitely had an impact!
Congratulations on your new daughter, Rachel! And what great names you’ve chosen for your children. Thank you so much for your kind words!
We have a daughter named Isannah! We discovered the name when reading Johnny Tremain. We were looking for a three-syllable name that ended in “ah” to match our other girls’ names. From my research it is Isabel (Consecrated to God) and Hannah (God is Gracious) put together. We pronounce her name Is-anna (Iz-an-nuh) and her nickname is Izzi. 🙂
My Name Is Isannah….I Was Named After The Character in The Book and I Hate How UN-Popular It Is and Do Get Many,Many Compliments. My Nickname Is Zizi To Make Things Easier And Really Sometimes (The Way My Parents Pernounce It) is eye-zan-ah
I was assigned Johnny Tremain in grade 7, and have loved the name ever since. I’ve always pronounced it differently than most…I pronounce it like “ih-sahn-uh.” I’d probably use “Sannah” for short. It’s such a beautiful name. I’ll name my kid Isannah some day.
Zizi (Isannah) says
I Think Anyone Who Names There Child This Name Has Made a Great Choice Because This Is My Name and I Really Would Like There To Be More People because I Always Get So Many Compliments
I think the correct pronunciation is Is – Anna!
I was in the 7th grade when I had to read Johnny Tremain. I loved the name Isannah (although the character, towards the middle, began to annoy me since she left her sister Cilla [sp?]). I pronounce it like “iss-SAHN-ah”. A bit differently than everybody else, it seems, but I like my pronunciation. Isannah is such a pretty name. I’m thinking about naming my child that one day. We’ll see. Maybe a middle name, who knows. And go by Sannah (pronounced like “SAHN-ah”) for a nickname. Very pretty.
i wanna name my daughter that one day to. Ive always thot it was pronounced Is-Anna.
I’m not trying to be dense but what is wrong with Jameson Walker?
Nothing – it’s a very nice name.
Except he was referring to Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky. It’s probably not a reference everyone would get, and the combination does sound nice enough.
Alisha’s comment about a girl named Whiskey prompted that particular comment – but their daughter is called Victoria, so no alcohol references were used in the naming of their child. 🙂
David Zajac says
I was just blessed with a beautiful baby Granddaughter, Isannah, on May 20th at 11:50am, 7 lbs 10 oz, 20.5 inches!!!
I think this name is absolutely gorgeous with the pronunciation “ee-SAHN-ah.” Isannah…definitely one of my current favorites, if not my top favorite. as a bonus, one could use the nickname Isa, which as I gather from Nameberry, has its own meaning
I had to laugh when I came across this blog. When I was in 7th grade and was reading Tremain, I absolutely fell in love with this name. I have always liked unique names, but not so weird to be made fun of (such as a girl named Whiskey where I teach). I have had this name in the back of my mind, and now at 25, I’m still not quite ready for kids yet, and my husband isn’t crazy about the name, but maybe he’ll grow to like it, or it could be a good middle name someday!
Whiskey!? Goodness. There was once a girl called Cola where I worked, but then, I worked at a social service agency for children. Kids who ended up at our residences often had parents with questionable judgment. (Or, to be fair, who had difficult lives of their own.) My neighbor threatened to name his son Jameson Walker, but I’m pretty sure he was kidding. (I’ll never know – they’re having a girl!)
But I do like Isannah quite a bit. Who knows, maybe your husband will come around!
Funnily enough, as an advanced English student, I never was assigned “Johnny Tremain” (but I did get Animal Farm three different times!, I love that one) and when I’ve seen this in the Revere family tree, I’ve always said ee-sah-nah in my head. I’ve never heard it aloud, so in my head, it sounds fine to me!
I’m not a fan of any -anna name, preferring simple, stately Anne (which I’ve alreay used). -anna names are a bit too fluffy for my taste, although I have no problem with any one of them on someone else’s girls (I hope not boys!) 🙂 But Isannah is definitely pretty and would stand aprat from the other -anna’s. Susannah & Rosanna are the only two my brain can come up with at the moment and she definitely stands apart from those two! Very pretty. Isannah’s one I think I’d smile to see on someone else’s daughter for sure. Just as I know she’s not for me.
Now I have to get myself a copy of “Johnny Tremain”
Emmy Jo says
Thanks, Verity! I remember falling in love with this name after reading ‘Johnny Tremain.’ It is very pretty; I’ve always pronounced it eye-ZAN-uh, kind of like Susannah. I can’t decide if it’s too much of a combo name to actually use, though its use by Paul Revere definitely lends it some historical legitimacy. Where do you get your census record information? My internet searches only turned up the Paul Revere reference and the ‘Johnny Tremain’ reference.
I think eye SAN ah is the best pronunciation to me, I’d probably call her Isa (EYE-sa) or Sana/Sanaa (SAH ah).
I’d prefer her as a middle name, just because I can’t picture an Isannah in a classroom with Lily and Emily and Kaylei and Jaiydhen and Jakob and Jaycob.