Do you remember Trudy, the wealthy Italian who bankrolls the title character’s mop factory in 2015’s “Joy”? Did you ever wear Trésor by Lancôme, the top-selling perfume of 1992?
Isabella Rossellini, who helped develop the perfume as a fashion model and played Trudy, turns 67 on Tuesday.
Occitan is a Romance language spoken in southern France. In medieval times, Elisabel appeared there as a variation of the biblical name Elizabeth. Though linguists explain that “th” or “t” don’t normally end Occitan words, that “bèl” means “beautiful” in Occitan surely helped.
Elisabel shortened to Isabel, which quickly became the normal form of Elizabeth in Spanish and Portuguese. Isabel spread to northern France, and was introduced into England by the Normans.
Isabel was hugely popular in medieval England because of three queen consorts. Isabella of Angoulême (1186-1246) was wife of King John and mother of Henry III. Isabella of France (1295-1358) was Edward II’s wife and regent for her son Edward III. Isabella of Valois (1389-1409) was the child bride of Richard II.
Though we call these queens “Isabella” today, when they were alive, Isabella was just a Latin form used in written records. Isabel was the actual medieval English name, ranking fifth for all English women living around 1380.
Isabel stayed common for centuries. Between 1540 and 1700, it never ranked lower than 18th in English parish records.
The name went out of fashion in the 1700s. When the Victorians revived it as part of their love of medieval names, Isabella came into its own. The 1850 United States census found 30,904 Isabellas and 9,341 Isabels.
Isabella’s Victorian revival wasn’t as strong as those of its sisters Emma, Ida or Bertha. When Social Security’s baby name lists started in 1880, Isabella ranked 215th, with Isabel again ahead at 161st. Isabella vanished from the top thousand in 1949.
In October 1989, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” introduced character Isabella Toscano, played by Staci Greason. After killing her own sister in self-defense and discovering her biological father is shady tycoon Victor Kiriakis, Isabella died of cancer in the arms of her heartthrob husband, John Black, in October 1992. The character was so popular, Greason returned for short stints playing Isabella’s ghost four times between 1995 and 2010.
In March 1990, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was the victim of history’s largest theft when art worth over $500 million was stolen.
The soap and the museum reminded Americans of Isabella just when the similar Olivia and Sophia were booming. Isabella skyrocketed — 215 were born in 1990, when it returned to the top thousand at 895th. In 2000, the 6,242 born ranked it 45th. In 2007, 19,139 Isabellas arrived, ranking it second.
It looked like Isabella had peaked. Then “Twilight” happened. The hit book series about high school student Isabella “Bella” Swan and sparkly vampire Edward appeared in 2005. Author Stephenie Meyer, who has only sons, gave her character the name she was saving for a future daughter.
The first “Twilight” film, starring Kristen Stewart as Bella, premiered November 2008. In 2009, over 25,000 Isabellas were born, ranking the name No. 1.
Though it’s begun its inevitable fall, the 16,533 Isabellas born in 2018 ranked the name fourth. Isabella will be a queen of American playgrounds for quite a while.