Yesterday I read a story in the Chicago Tribune about the bad luck of women and girls named Isis. Isis is the name of an Egyptian goddess dating back to ancient times. Her role was as the ideal mother and source of nature and magic. Today, however, the name conjures an acronym for the heinous terrorist group that is also referred to as ISIL or Daesh. When Chicagoan Isis Jackson heard Sarah Palin shriek that Donald Trump was “gonna kick ISIS’ ass!”, she reacted instinctively by looking up at the TV. It’s that same reaction I have when, no matter where I am or with whom, if I hear someone yell, “Mom!,” I assume they are talking to me.
Worse, though, are the reactions some people have been having to the name Isis here in America. From a 14-year-old girl being bullied to a shop owner being pressured to change the name of her Isis Books & Gifts due to vandalism, the name has become a serious burden for some.
The situation reminds me of the months post-9/11, when the name Osama carried that same kind of terrible baggage. Indeed, the owner of a restaurant called Osama’s Place was under pressure to change it. Located in the shadow of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, Osama’s Place had been a local institution for many years before haters started to issue bomb threats or refuse to patronize the place. (newyorktimes.com, September 28, 2001) The name Osama, which means “big cat,” had been a popular one among people of Arab descent. I’m pretty sure most people now shy away from that name in the same way that the name Adolf became reviled after World War II.
Interestingly, I spotted the unfortunate name Adolph not long ago on – get this – a funeral home that provides cremation services. While I have actually attended visitation services there, and it’s a lovely place, I might have thought twice about the haunting associations there and gone into another line of work!
Even names with positive associations can cause people angst. Recently, on the Facebook page “Humans of New York,” a young girl named Beyonce bemoaned the fact that whenever roll is called in school for the first time, she gets a rendition of “Single Ladies.” (In my day, a similar reaction would be found to a name such as Cher.) In the comments section of “Humans of New York,” many people commiserated and shared their terrible names, such as Jim Socks, Meredith Pancake, and Lovin George.
But my favorite comment of all was, “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Beyonce. Then be Beyonce.”