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).