Input on girl name please: Isabeau?

Hi all,

I've been leaning toward Isabeau as a girl's name. I love it; it was actually a popular girl's name in Europe a few hundred years ago. Here's why I hesitate. Isabelle and Isabella are SO popular. Like I know a couple of dozen and there are at least 3-4 in my son's grade. I worry she'll always be correcting people who think her name is Isabelle since it's so close. I don't dislike Isabelle but it is way too common a name for me. What do you think? Does Isabeau sound phonetically different enough from Isabelle that people won't constantly ask her to repeat?

Thanks for any input!


January 19, 2018 1:38 PM

I actually have met a little Isabeau! She uses Beau as a nickname, further distancing her from all the Izzys and Bellas. I was charmed to encounter the name in the wild and think it’s a great choice. You would need to prepare for being misheard regularly and needing to clarify — I have a child whose name is one syllable off from a common name as well — but I don’t think it needs to be a dealbreaker, just giving you more opportunity to talk about a name you love. (My son likes his name.)

January 19, 2018 1:45 PM

I think that this works better in an environment where people don't speak French. Seeing a girl nicknamed Beau makes me a little twitchy since that's the masculine adjective (Belle being the feminine one) for beautiful. This makes Isabeau feel like the masculine version of Isabelle to me, even though I know that it isn't.

January 22, 2018 8:52 AM

Karyn, Same for me when I read the name. Beau is masculine. I'm curious to learn more about the name now, as it is new to me.

January 22, 2018 9:41 AM

It's weird that you find it weird in French, because Isabeau is specifically a medieval French form of Isabel:

January 22, 2018 10:58 AM

I get your point, where I think you meant "masculine" rather than French. Yes, it's French in origin, which just makes my eyebrow go up another little notch, given Beau's French usage.

I was reading up, and I agree with everyone who.says use it if you love, and know that there will be corrections to be made in spelling and pronunciation in introductions because unlike -belle, -beau is not a common name ending. Then there's bo/bow vs. beau.

Nameberry has an entry on it, noting the meaning of "beau" as masculine adjective, the pop-culture references (it's in more TV shows than you might think), and the alternative spelling of Ysabeau.

There's also a hilarious entry involving it on a website called Bewitching Names, where a Wiccan woman gives ideas and (sharp-tongued) opinions about names NeoPagans might use. She tries to convince some to try Isabeau rather than Ladyhawke.

January 22, 2018 11:54 AM

I also enjoyed the Bewitching Names post! :-)

Does anyone more linguistically-knowledgeable know how this "beau" thing came about in a French female name? I've been reading a few write-ups of the name today, but haven't really seen this solved.

By EVie
January 22, 2018 1:05 PM

There seems to be a lot of confusion about Isabeau. AJ, HNG really did mean French and not masculine, because Isabeau was never a masculine name. The etymology of Isabel/Isabeau has absolutely nothing to do with the etymology of beau/bel/belle (and note that bel is *also* a masculine adjective in French, used in place of beau when the next word starts with a vowel -- that doesn't mean Isabel is a masculine name).

Most of the words in modern French that end in -eau evolved from Old French words ending in -el, which came from Latin or Latinized Germanic words. Château from OF chastel from Latin castellum, bateau from OF batel from batellus (Latinized from Old English), gâteau from OF gastel from a Germanic word, nouveau from OF novel from Latin novellus, chapeau from OF chapel from Vulgar Latin cappellus (eau itself is an exception -- OF ewe from Latin aqua). While most of these words are masculine, exceptions are possible (eau is feminine). So that seems like the likely explanation for Isabeau -- when Old French -el endings began changing to modern French -eau, Isabel went along for the ride. Think of it more as Isab(eau) rather than Isa(beau).

That's not to say that thinking the "beau" ending on a feminine name is weird is invalid -- I imagine that's precisely why it dropped out of use in favor of Isabelle. It's a philological accident, though, not indicative of gender.

ETA: Ok, reading back over this, "absolutely nothing to do with" is a bit of an overstatement. Rather, Isabeau tracks the same development pattern as beau from bel from Latin bellus, but the fact that they both have a "b" before the "eau" is just a coincidence. 

ETA2: And thinking about my kid's pronunciation of the letter L, I can totally understand how this linguistic shift could take place. He would totally say it "ih-za-behw."

January 22, 2018 1:29 PM

That is an excellent explanation. And like I said, I *know* that the association is wrong, but it's still the first thing that I see. Or rather, the first thing that I saw, because now I can easily parse it as Isab+eau, which eliminates the masculine label. ("Water" is not a typical suffix, but it does help the m/f thing.) I think that the fact that so many Isabelles use the nickname Belle reinforced the Isa+belle idea.

And I had a good laugh at the toddler pronunciation thing because that's exactly how my daughter used to pronounce "L", too! 

January 23, 2018 9:47 AM

Oh, fantastic explanation. Thank you! I guess I should have clued in that the ending wasn't originally anything to do with the adjectives for beautiful, since it's also Isabel in Spanish and not Isabella.

By EVie
January 23, 2018 12:09 PM

I know Elizabeth evolved into Isabel in Spanish because the "th" didn't exist, and I think the "l" was the closest approximation that felt natural in the language? I'm not as familiar with Spanish as with French and Italian. French retained the "th" spelling, but it's pronounced as a "t," and Italian went all the way to a "tt" and added an a at the end, as all Italian feminine names have them (Elisabetta). And Elizabeth is Hebrew, so yeah, nothing to do with Latin bellus.

Going on a tangent about bellus -- the more common term for "beautiful" in classical Latin was pulcher, which didn't really make it into the modern languages in a major way (as we discussed in the Pulcheria thread... it doesn't sound like a very attractive word, does it? Although it's better in Latin, POOL-kehr). And the common word for "war," bellum, overlaps with bellus in some of its inflections (e.g. bella bella, neuter plural, is "beautiful wars"). But bellum fell out of use in the modern languages in favor of the Germanic-derived war/guerre etc. So I wonder whether those two changes are directly related, i.e. the shift to war made it easier/less confusing to use bellus...?

January 19, 2018 2:38 PM

I agree.  I think Isabeau would be charming, despite the need for occassional correction.  Isadora also comes to mind, and seems less likely to be confused with the more popular Isabelle style names.

January 19, 2018 7:12 PM

I think its fine,  another is  Isabeth a little more feminine than Isabeau

January 19, 2018 10:12 PM

Isabeau is lovely, but I admit, I would probably mishear it and need to be corrected.

January 20, 2018 9:27 AM

I've always really liked Isabeau. I agree that it would be misheard and need correcting sometimes, but if you enjoy talking about names this doesn't have to be a big deal. Strangers may think you've used the uber-common Isabelle, but anyone who knows you or your daughter for longer than a few minutes won't have that impression.

I would go around armed with a catchphrase like "it's an old French name," or even "it's a CLASSIC old French name," so people who aren't familiar with it don't think you made it up.

January 20, 2018 11:06 AM

My go-to for this would be "you know, like in Ladyhawke."  All right-thinking people will know what you mean ;-).

January 20, 2018 9:40 PM

*Googles Ladyhawke*

*Sees that it's a movie from 1985*

*Notes that the movie's genre is listed as fantasy/adventure*

*Understands why she's never heard of it despite the famous cast*


January 21, 2018 3:28 PM

* Downloads Ladyhawke despite its 62% average on Rotten Tomatoes...

January 21, 2018 8:20 PM

Ladyhawke has its flaws (most notably the soundtrack, which for me is just jarringly Wrong throughout), but it somehow pulls together despite it all into one of my all-time favorites (which I haven't seen in much too long, maybe I need to get hubby to put it on right now...).

January 20, 2018 10:01 AM

I second Karyn. If you’re not in an area where French is spoken, then I think Isabeau is a nice alternative to Isabel(la) and its many variant spellings. 

January 22, 2018 5:27 AM

I think the question is whether YOU love this name.

Fact: Isabeau will frequently be mispronounced and misspelled.  If this will irritate you, yes go with Isadora, Isabeth, etc. instead.  Especially if your motivation is "Isabelle is too common for me and I'm lookiing for something else kinda like that but isn't too complicated for others," yes go with Isadora, Isabeth etc instead

If YOU truly love the name, none of this should not be a deal-breaker.