Isabella's Fast Rise as a Popular Baby Name

What is the origin and meaning of this four-syllable name?

Caucasian mother and daughter laying on bed
Shestock/Getty Images

Isabella barely made a blip in the top baby names for decades, until she cracked the top 50 back in 2000. Since then it's been full steam ahead for the four-syllable name, which has traded places in the top ten with Sophia, Emma, and Olivia over the past decade. In 2014, it ranked number 4. 

Isabella is that rare name that has been popular across multiple cultures and has both old-fashioned and modern appeal.

It also lends itself easily to cute nicknames. At least part of its success likely comes from the popularity of the Twilight sparkly vampire film series, which featured a main character named Isabella "Bella" Swan.

How remarkable is Isabella's rise to popularity? As of just 30 years ago, she hadn't even made the top 1000 most popular names, and in 2009 and 2010, she was number one on the list. So where did Isabella come from and what does the name mean? 

Meaning of the Name Isabella   

Though considered an Italian name, the name Isabella has its roots in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The Latinized version of "Elizabeth," the name means simply "my God is abundance."  While that's a nice background for parents who wish to choose a  religious name, given its multicultural roots, Isabella is suitable in many situations. 

Historical Significance of Isabella

The name itself actually dates to medieval times, when it was primarily used in Spain, Portugal, and France.

In the 12th century, it became increasingly popular with royalty, and rose in prominence. The most well-known royal Isabella was Queen Isabella I of Castile, who funded Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage to the New World.

Not Just Bella: Other Nicknames for Isabella

Though Isabella certainly sounds sweet and feminine and may have many a parent insisting on her using her full name, Isabella lends herself to many loving nicknames; in addition to Bella, there's Izzy, Belle, Ella, and Ibby.

Parents might also want to consider some of the other "Bella" names, which include Annabella, Arabella, Maribel, and Rosabella.

Pronunciations of Isabella Differ

The pronunciation of Isabella varies slightly depending on the language. In English, it is pronounced iz-ə-BEL-ə. It's slightly different in Italian: ee-zah-BEL-lah, and in Spanish: iss-ə BEL-ə.

Suggested Middle Names for Isabella

The popular middle names Rose and Grace flow nicely with the name Isabella, in both tone and in their traditional feel. Isabella's four syllables lend itself well to a shorter middle name, preferably one that doesn't begin with an "A."  Other options are Isabella Jane, Isabella Louise, and Isabella Marie.

Suggested Sibling Names

Looking for a well-paired sibling set of names, parents might consider choosing another classic-sounding name, another Italian name, a girl's name ending in the "ah" sound, a name beginning with the letter "I," or a name with four syllables. Some suggestions might be:

  • For girls: Alexandra, Amelia, Sophia, or Victoria

Fictional Isabellas (Besides that Vampire One)

Bella Swan of the series may be the most recent addition to the list of Isabellas in literature, but she's hardly the only one. Isabella was the name of Claudio's sister in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Isabella Linton was the sister of Edgar Linton in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The gossipy Isabella Thorpe was a character in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and Isabella Knightley was Emma's sister in Austen's Emma. 

Famous Isabellas

The most famous Isabella of the last century has to be actress Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Ingrid Bergman, former Lancome model who starred in the movies Blue Velvet and Death Becomes Her. 

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924), was an American art collector and philanthropist who lends her name to a museum in Boston.

Celebrity Babies Named Isabella

Of course there are a few, it's a trendy, cool name, after all:

  • Isabella Aurora Webber (1996), daughter of Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • Isabella Lorenza Lamas (2001), daughter of Lorenzo Lamas
  • Isabella Strahan (2004), daughter of Michael Strahan, twin sister Sophia
  • Isabella Jane Cruise (1992), daughter of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise

Continue Reading