Picking a name for your baby can feel like a huge responsibility, because it is. It’s the name they’re almost certainly going to be using for the rest of their life, and most parents work hard to choose a name with a lovely sound and cadence that has nothing but positive connotations.
For baby girls, naming them after a goddess is never a bad place to start, since they have name recognition and awesome meanings just by default. Who wouldn’t want to name their child after an ethereal, powerful badass with incredible beauty? Well, if that badass is Isis, the ancient Egyptian mother-goddess associated with the moon and fertility, the answer is, not that many people nowadays.
With the release of the Social Security Administration’s list of popular (and not so popular) baby names last week, name nerds everywhere have a whole bunch of data to pore over now, and one little nugget of information that people picked out very quickly was Isis’ fall from grace as a baby name. It’s not surprising, but it is a little unfortunate.
The reason for the dramatic nosedive — the name plummeted over 1,000 spots — is the other ISIS. The terror group has gone by a lot of names — ISIL, Daish, Daesh or just IS — but ISIS, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is by far the acronym by which it is most well known. Which means that when people hear “Isis,” they aren’t thinking of the supreme mother-goddess of the Egyptian pantheon; they’re thinking about bombings and atrocities. It’s no wonder that parents are hesitant to use it.
It wouldn’t be the first name to disappear almost entirely due to its negative connotations. Jezebel and Lucifer are two other religious names that are commonly seen as far less than divine. History can really do a number on a name as well. Take Adolf, for instance, which means “noble wolf” but conjures images of genocide. The name remains fairly unpopular for the heinous things it reminds us of.
Parents fear their children will be ostracized for having names with negative histories behind them, and that’s not unreasonable. In fact, ever since ISIS started making the headlines, kids who share a name with the group have had their fair share of awfulness to contend with. That can mean bullying or the full-scale shunning from the makers of delicious hazelnut spreads. Moms who had Isis on their short list before 2014 have even considered changing the name they once loved, swapping out the first “s” for an “r” to make Iris. Other parents and adults named Isis aren’t taking it lying down, though: There’s even a petition to name the terrorist group something else entirely to spare the people who are being unjustly criticized the cruelty of people who can’t bother cracking open a history book.
Whether or not you would ever name your baby Isis given the events of the past year or two is, of course, your prerogative. But we all should remember that for the little girls who already share a name with the Queen of Heaven, undue speculation about whether or not they’re terrorists isn’t just ignorant, it’s totally uncalled for. If you see a kindergartner named Isis, you can probably safely conclude she wasn’t named for the group conducting despicable acts of rape and murder, so there’s really no need to ask her parents just to be sure. When in doubt, firmly press your lips together, and refrain from being a jerk.
Other names have made it back from the brink, like Delilah and Lilith, so there’s no way of knowing right now if Isis will be on the outs forever. There’s always a chance that once the raging Dumpster fire that is ISIS is doused, people will be comfortable using it again. Until then, be kind to the little Isises of the world, and remember, even positive names can be negative ones in disguise. There’s no telling how many people snatched up the name Brody without knowing that it actually translates to “ditch” in Gaelic.
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