Isis is the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage, and love, known for being an ideal wife and mother. ISIS is the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a fearsome terrorist group that recently beheaded two journalists and an aid worker on camera.
Isis Martinez, a 38-year-old woman who lives in Miami, was surely not named in honor of the latter. But now, current events are taking their toll.
"Whenever I was at a public place or a restaurant, there would be TV monitors with tickers at the bottom: 'ISIS warns,' 'ISIS kills,' 'ISIS threat,'" she told the Miami Herald. "Every word after my name is incredibly negative."
She is not alone in her plight. David Taylor, the data scientist and writer behind the blog Prooffreader, recently trawled the U.S. Social Security database for the most popular names from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and Roman mythologies. It turns out that parents have been liking the sound of "Isis" for their little (pink) bundles of joy lately. (Click here for a larger version):
Top 10 Mythological Girls' Names, 1940-2013
In some ways, the chart makes perfect pop-culture sense. "Venus" peaked during the 70s, right after the Dutch band Shocking Blue topped the charts with a song by the same name. (She's got it! Yeah baby she's got it!)
Minerva and Vesta, a virgin Greek warrior goddess and a virgin Roman goddess of the hearth, respectively, have faded over time. It often takes about 100 years for baby names to stage a resurgence, but the heyday for those two was in the 1940s—so it's still a few decades too early for their comeback.
The baby-name problem is a fairly small part of the broader "what-to-call-these-people" dilemma. Organizations that go by the acronym ISIS have been begging news media to call the Sunni extremist organization something different. And to some extent, it's working. As National Journal's Matt Berman points out, the Associated Press has moved to "Islamic State group" and The New York Times is going with IS. The U.S. government has increasingly said "ISIL"—the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Egypt's Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, proposed “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria,” or QSIS, and France recently announced it would use the Arabic acronym "Daesh." ISIS really hates that word though, and according to The Washington Post, has threatened to cut out the tongue of anyone who uses it.
Being named Isis right now may not be as challenging as being named Osama right after 9/11. But it does make you realize just how quickly history can turn. (President Obama once quipped that his middle name, Hussein, must have been given to him by "someone who never thought I'd run for president.") Almost overnight, certain words can go from perfectly fine to completely untouchable, just like ISIS went from being like a "junior-varsity" basketball team to the biggest terrorist threat the U.S. has faced in years.
We can only hope that we never face an enemy whose acronym is EMMA—the second-most-popular girls' name last year.