Isabella, Isabelle, Isabel

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Provencal/French/Spanish/Portuguese

It is generally believed that Isabel, or Isabella, was originally a Provençal cognate of the Hebrew Elisheva, (Elizabeth).

The Medieval Latinate form of Elizabeth, was Elisabel. Over the years, and eventually in Provençal, it was somehow condensed down to Isabel, (the El being dropped from the first syllable).

In the 12th-century, it spread throughout the rest of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, becoming a popular name among most of their ruling houses.

The name even made an impression in Medieval England, after the marriage of Isabella of Angoulême to King Edward II, since then, Isabella and Isabel have been in wide usage in England and in other English-speaking countries.

In Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, this the more common cognate for Elizabeth, though it is still considered a parallel name.  Isabel/Ysabel are the Spanish forms, Isabelle the French and Isabella is the Italian form.

The name was further popularized in Southern Europe, and especially in Spain, after Isabella I of Castile hit the throne (1451-1504). Known for many exploits, the most famous association with her was her funding of Christopher Columbus’ exposition to the New World. She is still considered a national heroine in modern day Spain.

Other sources suggest that it is related to an ancient Phoenician name, possibly being related to Jezebel, which in Biblical Hebrew, was rendered as אִיזֶבֶל (‘Izevel), a Hebrew play on words meaning “not exalted,” but in Phoenician would have meant “exalted by Baal.”

In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a wicked queen who, eventually, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Elijah, was eaten by dogs.

Since the Jezebel of the Bible was so disdained, it is less likely that Isabel is related, rather, due to its similar sonority many scholars connected the name with Jezebel.

Currently, Isabella is the 2nd most popular female name in the United States. Just 20 years ago, in 1990, Isabella was the 893rd most popular female name, she jumped a couple hundred spots the following year, in 1991, coming in at # 698. Over the following 10 years, she kept jumping 200 hundred spots a year until she hit # 7 in 2004.

It is uncertain what exactly made Isabella from being a relatively unheard of name, to one of the most popular female names of the decade. It may have been due to the wide coverage of Nicole Kidman’s and Tom Cruise’s adopted daughter, Isabella Jane in 1992.

Isabella’s popularity does not stop in the United States, her rankings in other countries are as follows:

  • # 1 (Australia, 2007)
  • # 7 (Canada B.C., 2008)
  • # 89 (Chile, 2006)
  • # 18 (England/Wales, 2008)
  • # 72 (Ireland, 2007)
  • # 70 (the Netherlands, 2008)
  • # 76 (Norway, 2007)
  • # 69 (Scotland, 2008)
  • # 35 (Sweden, 2007)

and with the public’s attention on Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series, Twilight, in which the heroine is named Isabella Swan, it looks that Isabella may be here to stay for quite awhile.

Her Spanish sister of Isabel ranks in the top 100, coming in at # 96. Her rankings in other countries are as follows:

  • # 65 (Australia, 2007)
  • # 84 (Canada, B.C., 2008)
  • # 78 (Chile, 2006)
  • # 50 (England/Wales, 2008)
  • # 66 (Ireland, 2006)
  • # 59 (the Netherlands, 2008)
  • # 46 (Spain, 2006)

As for her French counterpart of Isabelle, she came in as the 98th most popular female name in the United States (2008). Her rankings are as follows:

  • # 30 (Australia, 2007)
  • # 34 (Canada, B.C., 2008)
  • # 17 (England/Wales, 2008)
  • # 43 (Ireland, 2007)
  • # 107 (the Netherlands, 2008)
  • # 22 (Sweden, 2007)

Other forms of the name include:

  • Zabel (Armenian)
  • Isabèu (Bearnais/Gascon/Provenςal)
  • Isabela Изабела (Croatian/Czech/Spanish/Portuguese/Romanian/Serbian. Isabela is the 533rd most popular female name in the United States-2008)
  • Bella/Belle (English: contractions of Isabella/Isabelle, also associated with the Italian and French words for beautiful. In 2008, Bella was the # 122nd most popular female name in the United States. In Australia it was the 41st most popular-2007. Belle, on the otherhand, did not rank in the U.S. top 1000, she was the #429th most popular female name in the Netherlands-2008)
  • Isbel (English: archaic form)
  • Isebeeuke (Flemmish)
  • Isabelle (French/English/German/Dutch)
  • Isabelline (French: archaic French diminutive form, used as an independent given name, and the name of a creme colour in English).
  • Isabeau (French: archaic, a medieval fraconized form of the Provençal Isabèu, in French, this is pronounced ee-zah-BOH).
  • Sabela (Galician)
  • Isabell (German)
  • Izabella (Hungarian/Latvian: 81st most popular female name in Hungary-2008)
  • Izabel/Izabell (Hungarian)
  • Ísabella (Icelandic)
  • Isibéal (Irish-Gaelic: ISH-bale)
  • Sibéal (Irish-Gaelic: SHIH-bale)
  • Isabella (Italian: Isa is the common pet form)
  • Isabèl/Isabèla (Occitanian)
  • Izabela (Polish/Slovakian/Slovene: a common Polish diminutive form is Iza)
  • Isabella Изабелла (Russian)
  • Beileag (Scotch-Gaelic: originally a diminutive form, used as an independent given name)
  • Iseabail (Scotch-Gaelic: ISH-uh-bel)
  • Ishbel (Scotch-Gaelic: anglicization of Iseabail)
  • Isobel (Scottish)
  • Ysabel (Spanish/Catalan: archaic form, still in usage)

English diminutives include Ibby, Izzy, Belle and Bella. Spanish diminutives include Isabelita, Belita and Chabeli. In French, the diminutive form is Zabou.

Isabella is also used in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Norwegian and Swedish, as is Isabelle and Isabel.

An Italian masculine form is Isabello.

The name is also borne by several saints.

Its designated name-days are:

February 22 (France) and October 30 (Sweden).


Shayna, Shaina, Szejna

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Yiddish; Aramaic
Meaning: “beautiful,”; “peace.

This name has been erroneously listed as a feminine form of Shane or as an Irish name meaning “god’s gracious gift.” However, the name has a much deeper history than Shane and it has been around long before the cowboy.

In fact, the name is a traditional Ashkenazim female name. It has been popular among German, Polish and Russian Jews for centuries. Though a popular Jewish name, the name has no religious significance. Like many European female Jewish names that popped up in the Middle Ages, its a name that is derived from a vernacular word.

Since Yiddish is a Germanic language, the name Shayna is closely related to the modern German word schön “beautiful.” It is not a Hebrew name like other sources on the Internet have suggested, but it may have Aramaic roots as well, as the Aramaic word for peace is also shayna. Since Medieval Jews were fans of double entendres, the name have been used in reference to both sources.

In Medieval Germany, the German Jews adopted the local language, Old High German, and began adding vocabulary from other sources, such as Polish, Aramaic and even French and Spanish. Shayna is derived from Germanic roots, possibly from the feminine Old High German word for “beautiful,” and the name may also be linked with the Aramaic word, shayna meaning “peace.” In fact, Shayna has also been used among Assyrian Christians in recent years, also spawning a masculine variation of Shayno.

Since Yiddish was rendered in Hebrew, its most accurate transliteration should actually be Shaynah. However, since the Ashkenazim Jews were dispersed throughout Western and Central Europe, it has taken on various spellings depending on the native language of the bearer.

In Poland it was rendered as Szejna, in Germany as Schoene, Scheina, Schayna and in English as Shayna, Shana or Shaina.

In modern France, the Shaïna form has suddenly made its way into the French top 1000.

It is safe to say that the name first cropped up in Germany around the 13th century where it is recorded as Schoenlein, Shoinlin and Shonlin (all diminutive forms) in Koblenz Germany (cir. 1264 C.E.).

Schoene, Schoenele (a diminutive form), and Schoenle appear around the 1300s in other parts of Germany.

In 1555 Alsace, there is record of Schoenlen, (most likely a diminutive as well).

The name had official cognates depending on the country of origin.

Among Spanish and Italian Jews, it is Bella/Bela/Belisa

In Russia, all Shaynas were designated as Sofiya/Sophia for their Russian name.

In Hebrew, the official translation is Yaffa.

Many Jewish immigrants to the United States translated the name as Sadie, Jenny, Shirley, Susan or Charlotte.

An interesting and fresher variation that doesn’t have a history as a given name, but certainly would make a lovely option is Shaynkate, which is from the Yiddish word for “beauty.” Technically a masculine Yiddish form would be Shayn, but there is no history of it ever being used as a given name for males among Jews.

The name was not revived by Jewish American families till after the Second World War.

It was borne by famous Journalist Shana Alexander (1925-2005).

It is also borne by the daughter of Van Morrison, Shana Caledonia Morrison (b.1970 pictured upper left).

Since Jewish families often took matriarchal surnames, (that is, surnames based off a of a feminine name versus a masculine name), it has spawned several common Jewish Surnames such as Scheindlin, Schonfeld, and the Polish Szejna. It is currently borne by Polish Minister of the European Parliament Andzej Jan Szejna and TV Personality and Judge Judy Scheindlin.

The name has a very soft and pleasing feminine sound. Unfortunately, it has been mistaken as a trendy name by many name enthusiasts, and its history overlooked. Despite the misconception, the highest Shayna ever ranked in popularity was around 1991 at # 381. It currently comes in at # 978 (2008).

Diminutive forms include Shayndel, Szejnusia, Shaynele, Shaynle and Shaynlin. More modern English diminutives are Shay, Shayne and Shayni.