My partner and I are discussing girl names again for a baby next May, gender unknown. The two front-runners for girls at the moment are Isolde/Isolda/Iseult and Sybil/Sibyl/Sibil·la, both of which are obviously presenting some spelling issues. For background: he's Catalan, I'm Canadian. Our naming style has been described as "arty" and "pretentious," which we are fine with. Our daughter is Heur@ Edith, known as Ivy to English family and friends.

My partner loves the Catalan Iseu (Iz-ei-u), but to me it looks incomplete, not clearly female, unpronounceable in English and not used even in Catalan. He's fine with using another variant and calling her Iseu as a nickname. I actually slightly prefer Isadora to any of the Isolde variants, but I have made no headway at all in the last year trying to sell this as an alternative.


Isolde: Pros: Not the version used in Spain but instantly recognizable. International. Can easily contract to Iseu or Izzie, but also, at a stretch, Zelda, which I love. Cons: We are not opera fans but are coming to this name from Medieval literature, and I feel this strongly implies opera. Feels slightly middle-aged. While I am happy with either EE-zol-duh or Is-SOLD pronunciations, in Spain we are likely to get a lot of Ee-SOL-day, which I'm not thrilled about.

Isolda: Pros: unambiguous pronunciation. Familiar Latin spelling. Cons: While not a common name anywhere, I feel Isolda has been more used in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, so it doesn't have quite the same literary feel. When I google image it, I mostly get pictures of a Brazilian brand of meh floral dresses. Also, I would prefer that if we do have multiple girls, that not all their names end in –a. This is slightly maniatical of me but I don't like the overarching trend that boys names can end in all sorts of letters but girls names end in a. Rather like boys and girls clothing colours.

Iseult: Pros: My current favourite. It harkens much more clearly to literature than to opera for me, not only for the Tristan legend, but in the figure of Iseult Gonne, strongly connected to Yeats. I also like that this underlines its Irishness – my Irish surname will be part of the child's name, and my sisters both have Celtic names. Leads intuitively to Iseu as a nn. Repeats the "eu" of our daughter's name, which is also present in our choice for a boy… Cons: Pronunciation is ambiguous even in English. Having listened to online sources there seem to be so many variants and accents that I would probably just go with what I like best (Iz-OLT). Pronunciation is going to definitely be an issue in Spanish/Catalan. I'm not sure I can pull off Zelda as a nn with this. Partner thinks this version is a bit crazy, but I can probably bring him round since he recognizes that Isolde is more his idea than mine.

Extra fun: My partner has a grandmother called Soledad, and while we're not naming after her, I do feel that Isolde/Isolda could be <i>attributed</i> as an honour to her.


Sorry for the essay! Any thoughts or experiences with people in the real world with these names? Pronunciation thoughts?


September 26, 2017 6:45 AM

Isolde/Isolda/Iseult - I think I like Isolda best

Sybil/Sibyl/Sibil·la - Sybil is nice or Sybilla   another similar name Sylvie     Sylvana Sydelle Sydella


other names with Sol/zol  in them

Solana  Solange  Solena  Soleil  Solita Solinda  Solveig  Solene Solara Orsola Mirasol  Zola

Marisol also has the same meaning as Soledad


other names starting with is   Isolt Isora Isadora Isabeau Iselle  Isanna Isaura Isela Isalia


maybe other names with Zelda relation  - Rozelinda  Gizelda Grizelda Giselda Griselda  Criselda Zerelda Roselda Zelinda Cassilda Iselda

September 26, 2017 2:26 PM

Thank you! I'm really torn because I like Isolda the least, but it probably makes the most sense. Perhaps I should consider other variants. It is a pity I can't make Isadora fly. I don't mind Isolt though; I'll think about that one.

My partner really likes Griselda, actually, but I see "gristle" when I look at it.

September 26, 2017 4:30 PM

I have to agree with you about Griselda; I also can't help but hear "grizzled".

By mk
September 26, 2017 6:10 PM

Any particular reason why Zelda is not an option, other than no obvious connection to Iseu? Seem like it would work if he likes the sound of Griselda.

September 26, 2017 7:26 PM

how do you like Giselda then?

September 27, 2017 3:03 AM

Unfortunately, Zelda in Castilian Spanish would be pronounced THEL-da, which is a sound I find pretty irritating. In Catalan that wouldn't happen, but I still imagine she would get a lot of Thelda. Which unfortunately rules out Thola too!

Gisela is lovely! I seem to really gravitate towards ballet names, despite not being particularly interested in dance. In fact, my partner originally nixed Isadora because we are not dance fans.

September 26, 2017 4:27 PM

I think if the pronunciation you want is something like Iz-OLD(T) then Isolde is the direction to take. I don't necessarily associate that spelling with opera; it's been used in enough versions of the myth in various media that it doesn't really scream "opera" to me the way, say, Aida does. If the potential Spanish (mis)pronunciation really bothers you, perhaps you could mainly introduce her by her nickname most of the time? I think the potential retcon with Soledad is a nice plus. I don't know whether this would appeal at all, but I also think Zola would be an adorable nickname (and for me less of a stretch than Zelda).

I agree that Isolda somehow feels less directly connected to the literary tradition. So much so that I actually associate more with the Issola (from Stephen Brust) than with Tristan. That's not a bad association for me, but I think not what you're going for.

I quite like the look of Iseult; to me it is the most strongly medieval-romance-flavored of the three choices. I also find the connection to Zelda more intuitive with this spelling I agree the pronunciation of this one is non-obvious. Unfortunately, I would never ever guess your favorite pronunciation for it. I could go either Ih or Ee for the first vowel, but the second one would have to be something like the vowel in either full (which for me is distinct from the vowel in hull) or pool. I really would have a hard time getting used to it with the vowel of bolt.

I don't know whether any of that helps at all; maybe try out the various spellings at some cafes?

September 27, 2017 3:11 AM

I think your pronounciations of Iseult are closer to the ones I've heard online (which seem to vary widely depending on accent). I don't mind any of them actually; I think I just lean to IzOLT as containing sounds that Spanish people could make...although I'm not actually sure they could.

I'm glad to hear that the Isolde spelling is not all opera for you. I know there have been recent films, but I'm not sure they arrived to mainland Europe (or were widely watched in North America).

September 27, 2017 9:19 AM

In addition to films, there are some classical paintings of the pair that are titled "Tristan and Isolde" which may be familiar to some Europeans.

September 27, 2017 2:12 PM

I'm a longtime opera fan and happen to like this particular opera quite a lot... but even in that context I agree with nedibes that the Isolde spelling is not exclusively linked to the opera -- it's definitely no Aïda. Isolde was my default spelling for Tristan's beloved way before I encountered the opera for the first time. 

I like Isolde better than Isolda, mostly since the e ending is so well established for me that that Isolda looks off, and my brain wants to parse it as I-sold-a, like the beginning of a sentence about craigslist. 

Iseult is also one that I've encountered too, albeit more rarely and I think I've seen it with a Y beginning as well. I agree about the more strongly medieval-romance flavor to this spelling. I have only encountered in in writing but in my head thought it rhymed with bolt. I think it's more unusual but very usable. I think it's nice in your case since it links very well to Iseu. I think much like your older daughter has names that separate out to "the one she uses in Catalan" and "the one she uses in English", I think that you could have an Iseult who just goes by Iseu in Spain. (She could clarify, "like Iseu except with an l and a t at the end, my mom is English/a literature buff.") It would be a bit of a stretch to use Zelda as a nickname, perhaps, but that doesn't mean you can't -- you clearly have experience in getting nonstandard nicknames to stick with your eldest! 


If you're curious about what's gotten used in the US stats since 1880:

It looks like Isolde got launched by a movie in 2006 (which I haven't seen but am now curious to watch!), and is now in steady if rare circulation.

I think the pronunciation flexibility wouldn't deter me. I'd have the two preferred parental call name pronunciations (Iseu in the Catalan pronunciation and whichever you like best of the English-type pronunciations for you) and then just cheerfully accept that this is a name that has many pronunciations and that pretty much anything that someone else attempts is going to be correct for some part of the world. (Like "it's five o'clock somewhere", with apologies to Jimmy Buffet.) My experience is that people with an ear for language will try to copy your pronunciation, and that some people just won't be able to, and in this instance I think that's okay, because my understanding is that there are many legit pronunciations as this very old name travels around the world. 

September 27, 2017 2:30 PM

In "names compatible with Spanish pronunciations which could yield Zelda as a nickname", I know a young Itzel. It's very clearly a Latin-American name and not an Iberian one, but I think it's a name which sounds beautiful in the mouths of local Spanish speakers (admittedly I don't hear much of the strong th-for-z that you get in Castillian spanish) and not horrifically mangled by English speakers. The one I know chiefly goes by "Itsy", like bitsy teeny weeny, but Zelda would be not a stretch at all.

October 1, 2017 10:25 PM

Way off base from the Spanish/English/Catalian going on in this thread, but a sweet aside--There's a local cupcake shop where I used to live called Pinkitzel and they have a sign which says that it's name is a play on the phrase 'tickled pink' from pink+kitzel...apparently kitzel is Yiddish/German for tickle. Which makes for another positive association for the name Itzel for me :).

October 4, 2017 12:03 PM

What a great bakery name!! Usually business names aren't as interesting to me as people names, but this is an exception. Thanks for sharing!

September 28, 2017 3:19 AM

Thank you for the feedback and for pulling up the data. 

I'm not overly concerned about pronunciation variations, more the kind of thing where someone looks at a name and doesn't know where to start. I was sitting at the doctor last pregnancy when a nurse came out, looked at her paper, groaned and rolled her eyes and finally shouted "Ah-CHOO". An Indian lady got up to go in. I've no idea what her actual name was, but I'm fairly sure it wasn't Achoo.

Going back and forth between English/Catalan spellings is certainly doable, but I vaguely worry that no-one knows Iseu even in Catalonia, unless they've checked it out of the library. It's the less common form, like Iseult, but so rare that I cannot find a single mention of any age in the Spanish statistics...meaning there are between 0 and 4 living people with that name. I like uncommon, but I'm a bit hesitant to go full-on unique.

Itzel is very pretty. It reminds me of Itziar, a Basque name I like very much.

September 29, 2017 12:37 AM

I don't think Isolde would be panic-inducing in the pronunciation department. I can see the vowels ahoy of Iseult being a little more "help, I don't even know hot to parse this!" as a situation.

Even The Spouse couldn't come up with any alternate names for Tristan's love besides Isolde, and when I suggested Iseult she scrunched her nose and said "maybe" as a five syllable word. She's pretty literature savvy and a mythology buff, so I think the Iseult variant probably really would be confusing to many people.

I had a look in the social security death data to see how many Iseults there are (it's a way to look at rarer names that don't make it into the birth reports due to the 5+ reporting threshold). It really does look like quite a rarity -- I am finding *one*, meaning there are substantially fewer Iseults than Jolyons, for example. There's also three women named Yseult and a Yseulte, though.  

Bottom line, I think that Isolde might be the best compromise. Your husband can still call her Iseu, you could maybe call her Zelda, and she'd be homaging a Soledad in a fun way... and big sister would get the eu vowel combo all to herself. :) I really love this name, in general and for you! 


September 29, 2017 8:29 AM

I agree with all of this. Isolde seems to be everything you want, and seems to please all of your family members. It's a beautiful name!

September 29, 2017 4:29 PM

Good to know! I may have to file Iseult with other mad ideas I've had that don't work in the real world. :-P

Thank you everyone for helping me identify that I really don't like Isolda though. It's particularly good to know that not-feeling-it-is-really-Isolde is a vibe other English speakers also get.

October 3, 2017 9:55 PM

I don't actually think it's unworkable in the real world and five sets of American parents agreed with you. I do think it would be quite a rarity and unfamiliar to almost everyone you meet, so you'd need be ready to explain often... and even those who have encountered the name before might likely be only familiar with it in writing, and would still need pronunciation help. Having bestowed a name like this, I think it's doable, but you definitely get that "... Achoo?" phenomenon you were wanting to avoid. Isolde, on the other hand, I think is a name that will surprising and fresh but not wholly unfamiliar to at least a more literary/musical artsy pretentious naming sector. :) 

September 26, 2017 7:18 PM

I agree that Iseult feels the most classically literary, but I've only ever had to pronounce it in my head, so I have no idea what I'd do if I encountered it "in real life." My "internal" pronunciation vacillates between /ee-ZÜLT/ and /EASE-(eh)-ult/. I don't think I'd have much trouble adjusting to /ee-ZOLT/, though.

I know a young Iselle, which is another conscious literary reference, but a much more recent one than Iseult/Isolde. They say it as /ee-ZELL/, and she often goes by Izzy.

Split the difference and spell it Isolt? Some other ideas from the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources: Isselda, Isota, Isett.

September 27, 2017 1:51 AM

You've presented two front-runner names (each with a few variants), but are only discussing the Isolda ones, and not with much enthusiasm, I have to say!  You present these as options that you like but are not thrilled with.  To me, that says that you really want to name her Sibyl.

You may also want to consider the name Cybele, which sounds the similar but with emphasis on second syllable, and has a different origin (ancient goddess).



September 27, 2017 3:24 AM

You have a point, cm2530! Having written the Don Quixote of forum posts, I thought I'd leave Sibyl for another day! I do like Isolde/Iseult, but I think the spelling and pronounciation issues are doing my head in a bit. I don't mind correcting people -- I have to correct all the time with my daughter and explain why her name is what it is, etc., but at least in her case I have it very clear in my own head what the correct answer is. If people can't remember or pronounce her name in one language, I steer them towards the other. I feel like Isolde needs explaining in all languages, except the Isolda version, which I don't like.

I do like Cybele, although Sibyl is on the list for associations and things as well as sound. I'm going to mull that one over. 

I think one of my problems choosing a name (apart from the fact that the pressure seems to increase with each subsequent child), is that it is difficult to find names that work in both Catalan and English, and don't sound terrible in Spanish, that I like. There are a lot of traditional names that I can't get too excited about (Julia, Isabel), names that are starting to sound great in English but still sound geriatric in Catalan or vice-versa (Ottilie, Martina), or are beautiful in English but hideous in Spanish (Genevieve-Genoveva) or are much more popular in one country than the other (I like Lucia in English but it's everywhere here, and quite like Amèlia in Catalan but...). My daughter's name was a happy accident, but there aren't that many like it and anyway I think it would get a bit cutesy if we continued in that vein. The classical/mythological names have been a bit of a halfway point. I may have to make another post with our long list.

By EVie
September 27, 2017 12:24 PM

Wait, where did you get the idea that Cybele is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable? All the sources I've checked have it as SIH-buh-lee, which conforms to standard English pronunciation of ancient Greek names.

September 27, 2017 3:12 AM

Thank you. I actually don't mind Isolt. I do feel like I have to stay within the range of English spellings (of which there are dozens anyway) and Catalan spellings or risk losing all coherence in our family!

September 27, 2017 5:08 PM

Just want to say, I love Iseult. The literary/legendary connections, the rarity, all of it. I would definitely go with that spelling for those reasons, although I tend to say it pretty similarly to "assault" on first try.  Not a reason to avoid it in my book. 

Sybil/Variants are beautiful, too, however I strongly associate them with "Downtown Abbey." Again, not negative (at least for me). It's definitely ready for a comeback.


September 28, 2017 3:11 AM

Ha! I've never seen Downton Abbey, but I'm pleased there's that association, because my previous association was mainly Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers! 

September 28, 2017 7:32 AM

I have a highly negative personal association with the name Sybil, and the character on Downton Abbey helped redeem it a little since she's such a positive, likable character. 

September 29, 2017 7:13 PM

I'm sure I am wrong in doing so, but I pronounce Isolde more as "EE-sold" than "ih-SOLD," just in case you fear hearing mispronunciations. And it is definitely literary to me, just as Romeo & Juliet are literary, despite there being ballets and operas under those names.

I understand why Spaniards would say "Thelda" at first, but would they not correct after hearing you say the name? If you love the name, go with it. People will mimic you.

September 29, 2017 8:45 PM

Isolde is three syllables: ih-ZOL-duh.

September 30, 2017 9:47 AM

Given that the American Z sound doesn't really exist in Spanish, getting people to use it would probably be more difficult than it sounds. From my experience of watching Americans try to pronounce Spanish, I think a lot of people just don't even realize there's a difference between foreign consonant sounds and their own pronunciations.

October 2, 2017 5:02 AM

I think there are a number of "correct" pronunciations, not least because the same "Isolde" spelling is used in German, French and English (and probably some other languages?) without the name being common enough now to have a default pronunciation in each language.. I think this is one of my issues: I don't mind my daughter's name being mispronounced because at least I'm confident that we are saying it right!

I do like Zelda, but I don't think my husband likes it enough to use it as the full first name, pronunciation aside. And if I'm worried Isolde makes me seem like an opera fan, then Zelda definitely brings its own issues. :-)

October 3, 2017 3:36 AM

Re: where did I get that pronounciation of the name Cybele from -- I had a friend in college named Cybele, pronounced sa-BELL.  She's the only Cybele I've ever met so it never occured to me that's not the standard pronounciation!

By EVie
October 3, 2017 12:21 PM

That's really interesting, do you know if she was of French descent? If it's spelled Cybèle then that pronunciation is pretty close, but in the U.S. accents are dropped most of the time. Of course, there's always the chance that her parents saw the name in a book and just made an assumption about the pronunciation--we've all done it. 

October 4, 2017 12:33 AM

She was born around 1971 and her parents were total hippies: the kind of people who would have totally consulted a New Age Encyclopedia of Goddesses and gone "hey, Cybele!  That's pretty!"