The Story of the Name Isabella

Queen Isabella of CastileWikipedia lists no less than 21 Queen Isabellas — an astonishing number. From Isabella of Hainault, the 12th-century queen of King Philip II of France, to the 19th-century Queen Isabella II of Spain, it is no exaggeration to say that Isabella is a royal name.

Today, Isabella is the most popular girl’s name in the United States. But where does this regal name come from, and what does it mean?

The story begins with the name Isabel, which, in the early Middle Ages, was the Spanish version of the name Elizabeth. The first syllable of Elizabeth has been dropped, and the final syllable changed to ‘bel’, to form the name Isabel. It simply made the name Elizabeth more pronounceable in the Spanish language.

The meaning of Elizabeth, which is a name of Hebrew origin, is “God’s Promise,” so  this meaning can be transferred to Isabel also.

As with many names, different variations (also known as “cognates”) sprang up in different countries. The French form, now common in many languages, is Isabelle. The most popular form in England and the United States, along with Italy, Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia, is Isabella, although this form is now found in many other languages also.

The name Isabella has become enormously popular in recent years. It is a traditional name — another royal Isabella was the famous Queen Isabella of France, who was also the wife of King Edward II of England, from 1308 to about 1325. And yet here we are in the 21st century, some 700 years later, and Isabella sounds as fresh and clear today as it undoubtedly did at the court of Edward II.

Exactly how or why the name Isabella has stayed with us — with such enormous popularity — while so many other names have fallen by the wayside, is one of the mysteries and fascinations belonging to the world of names. Perhaps it is mostly due to the fact that so many royals have carried this name, and it was transmitted by that exposure from generation to generation, until it reached the present day. In that respect, it resembles some other beloved, traditional names, like William, James, Elizabeth, and so on.

Perhaps also it is due to the soft, lyrical syllables in the name itself. Whatever the reason for Isabella’s endurance, it is without doubt one of the most-famous and classic names of all time. The Isabellas of today not only carry a beautiful, contemporary name, but also a rich, centuries-old tradition.

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