Isabella has a winning ring to it in Social Security's name game of 2009

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

The Isabellas of 2009 are reserved and dramatic, calm and feisty, Italian and not Italian, feminine and tough, and that is why they are named Isabella.

The naming of the Isabellas of 2009 had nothing to do with the name's No. 1 ranking on the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names, released last week; in fact, the parents of the Isabellas were somewhat chagrined when they learned of this auspicious development. They were also not named after the "Twilight" character, no matter what the media claimed. The parents want to be very clear on this point.

The Isabellas of 2009 represent a cultural confluence, a love of beauty, a nod to nostalgia, a startling reminder that humans are not as unique as we think we are, though paradoxically we get more unique as time goes on (and look -- 285 babies named Unique were born last year!).

There were 22,067 newborns named Isabella in 2009.

At least six of them live here.

Rolling off the tongue

Isabella Camille Pulise, born May 13, 2009.

"I've always just loved the name," says Bonnie Pulise, who works for a real estate developer in Rockville. "I went to high school with two girls named Belle and Bella, and they were so beautiful." Her sons' names are Sebastian and Maximus; Pulise and her husband knew they needed a girl's name bold enough to match.

Isabella Nicole Chmil, born Nov. 19, 2009.

"It just rolls off the tongue," says Jaymie Chmil, a call center representative in Virginia. "I wanted her to have something cute to go with her weird last name. Now her initials spell I-N-C, like 'incorporated.' Maybe that means something. Maybe she'll be somebody important."

It is the year of Isabella, a name that can evoke importance, that can signify both foreign allure and American strength. We think of Isabella the Catholic who reigned over Castile and León, and Isabella Rossellini, defining feminine power for a generation of men who are now grown up and deciding what to name the baby. We think of Isabella, the Italian state of mind, where we are perpetually under the Tuscan sun, where we are perpetually eating and praying and loving with Elizabeth Gilbert.

Isabella Grace Heron, born New Year's Day, 2009.

"I pulled for it the whole time I was pregnant," says Cynthia Gertsen, who manages an arts education program in the District. "Coming from the arts world, I wanted her to have a beautiful, dramatic name. Something with an element of grace."

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