They called her a terrorist. They said they saw her on the news killing people. They asked her why she killed Americans.
The hallway taunts and classroom jeers became so unbearable that at the end of sixth grade, Isis Brown transferred to another middle school.
Now the bullied 14-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., has a message for others who share her name: “Love your name. Cherish your name.”
Until about three years ago, the only commentary on her given name was complimentary. People said it was unique, that it was beautiful.
But that of course was before the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS (for its previous name, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), started terrorizing the world.
From the moment the news media started covering the Islamic State, the bullying began. Brown said she would walk into class and kids would say, “That’s Isis. She’s part of the terrorist group.” She started avoiding those classes when she could, hiding out in a room for kids who needed extra help with reading.
She would come from school in tears, often going straight to her bedroom to cry.
And it wasn’t just at school. Brown deejays as a hobby — music is her passion — but several potential gigs fell through because of her name.
Then, about two weeks ago, the bullying followed her home. Classmates started writing on her Facebook page calling her a terrorist. She said it “really broke” her. She couldn’t take it anymore. She had to respond.
She had defended herself before, insisting to the other kids that she was an American too. But now she was going to tell them exactly how their words hurt her, and encourage other girls named Isis to be proud of their name.
In a video she posted on her Facebook page on Jan. 8 she admitted that every day at school she wants to cry.
“For all the people out there that are getting picked on with this name don’t do what I did. Don’t start skipping classes because you’re scared to go because you’re afraid of getting made fun of,” Brown says in her video. “No, you be the bigger person and show you’re not putting up with this anymore. That you can fight this battle [and] that you’re not going to let some wannabe bullies pick on you because you have it in you.”
She urged them to remember what their name really means.
Isis was an Egyptian goddess and she represents love and magic. Since 2000, it’s been in the top 1,000 girl names in America. In 2014, 396 baby girls were named Isis, according to U.S. Social Security data.
In late 2014, a Florida woman named Isis Martinez started a petition for news organizations to stop referring to the terror group as ISIS. “Help us take back our name,” she wrote. Another woman in Arizona was harassed for having a bumper sticker that said, “Team Isis.” The decal was part of a fundraiser for her 5-year-old, named Isis, who has Rett Syndrome.
Brown’s mother, Doris Brown, described how devastating it was to see her daughter hurting. She’d sit with her on her bed as she cried, encouraging her to be strong, but not to hold in her feelings. She was proud of her daughter for making the video, she said.
“There were several days I came home and wished I could change my name,” Isis Brown said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But I knew I had to keep my name because I knew it was something someone was going to love.”
Since posting the video, kids have apologized, Isis Brown said. And Doris Brown said her daughter has actually come home from school smiling, eager to tell her something nice a classmate said. Her peers have said she has a good heart, that she is brave and very strong.
At the end of the video, Isis Brown acknowledged that it was difficult to embrace her name under such intense bullying, but she urged others to try.
“So you kids out there with the name Isis, love your name, cherish your name,” she said. “I’m still learning, and I know you guys are too. But our reality, you’re named after a goddess. You’re not named after the terrorist group.”
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