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.