The realization came about 4:30 a.m. one day in a hospital waiting room in Miami. While news reports of the brutal beheadings by the Islamic State, also widely known as “ISIS,” were clamoring on a nearby TV, a nurse asked her how to pronounce her name.
“Isis,” she said.
The nurse looked at 38-year-old Isis Martinez and told her it must be sad to have that name. Then she suggested Martinez use her middle name, Teresa. “That’s when I realized the public perception [to my name],” she told Fox News.
It’s an unfortunate irony that a young Islamic terrorist group has tainted a name given to thousands of bouncing baby girls. The name “Isis,” also commonly spelled “Icesys,” has ranked in the top 1,000 for baby names in the United States, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, and is popular in other nations as well. The name even belongs to a former “America’s Next Top Model” transgender contestant, Isis King.
The name comes from the Egyptian goddess, Isis, described by Egypt Art Site as “one of the earliest and most important goddesses in ancient Egypt. She was regarded as the feminine counterpart to Osiris, a role she probably occupied before the dawn of dynastic Egypt. No other Egyptian deity as stood the test of time as well as Isis.”
So how were parents to predict that such an innocent name would one day raise eyebrows?
It’s why Martinez started an online petition urging the news media to stop using the acronym “ISIS,” which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and instead use “ISIL,” or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (That could cause problems for people named “Isil,” however. Although less popular, there are plenty on Facebook.)
Still, since the petition went live last month, more than 33,000 people have signed it. Its Twitter handle, @IsisMiami, has a meager following. And its Facebook group, called “Save Our Name,” is filled with stories about women — and little girls — now feeling the backlash from their name.
A couple weeks ago, Martinez said the biggest hit came when she sent a text to the wrong number.
“I texted ‘Hi Maria. It’s Isis. How’s it going? I’m here,’” Martinez said. “The person responded with, ‘You f—— terrorist.’” She tried to explain that she was a mom — not a terrorist. Eventually, the recipient threatened to call police.
“I realized that it’s an ignorant person, but he was afraid,” she said in an interview with Fox News. “I cried for the first time. It all came down for the first time.” She posted part of the text message exchange on her Twitter page.
She’s not alone.
An Oregon father said he said he can’t call his 3-year-old daughter Isis in public without strangers staring.
And this week, a couple from Sydney — parents of another Isis — appeared on the Australian TV show “Today” to urge people to “leave our daughter’s name alone.” Frank and Sheridan Leskien said their 13-year-old son, Maximus, has been teased at a school about his sister’s name. And it’s only a matter of time before Isis realizes what her name has come to represent.
“Every day there’s some sort of reference in the media or brought up in conversation about fighting ISIS, about how ISIS is evil, and I’m worried that she’s going to be targeted,” her mother told News.com.au. “It’s ruining our family and it’s ruining Isis’s future. I’m heartbroken for all the families being affected [by the Islamic State], the journalists, the different people who are suffering, but my family is suffering too.”
Organizations and companies using “ISIS” as a name or acronym seem publicly untroubled. Neither the Institute for Science and International Security, the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies or Isis Pharmaceuticals has announced plans for a name change.
“It is, of course, an unfortunate twist of fate that an al-Qaeda offshoot is referred to by an acronym that matches our company name … [but] our company name is not associated with a retail consumer market,” Amy Blackley, a spokeswoman for Isis Pharmaceuticals, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Physicians and medical staff we work with know us very well,” Blackley added, “and are not confused by the recent news regarding the terrorist group in Iraq.”
Martinez isn’t caving either.
“People don’t know me as Teresa, they know me as Isis,” she said. “If I do that, then the terrorists win.”