It’s the ultimate princess name, having been worn by royals in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, France, and Scotland. It’s also a versatile literary choice used by authors from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Emily Bronte (and more recently, by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series). But if its top-10 status has you looking further afield, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re all about the “-bella” or “-ella” ending, consider a few of these options:
- Arabella — Though it sounds Italian, Arabella actually originated as a Scottish variant of Annabel. Arabella Fermor was the aristocratic young lady for whom Alexander Pope wrote his mock-heroic poem “The Rape of the Lock.” A fictional Arabella is the humorously idealistic heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s 18th-century novel The Female Quixote.
- Annabel/Annabelle/Annabella — Another name with royal and literary ties; Annabella was the daughter of James I of Scotland. (Incidentally, Annabella of Scotland named her only child Isabella.) A beautiful but despicable Annabella appears in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
- Mirabel/Mirabelle/Mirabella — Latin for “wonderful”; popular during the Middle Ages
- Maribel/Maribelle/Maribella/Mariella — All elaborations of Maria
- Rosabel/Rosabelle/Rosabella — Mean “beautiful rose”
- Gabrielle/Gabriella — French and Spanish feminizations of Gabriel, meaning “strong man of God”; be aware that Gabriella is currently a top-40 pick, so it might not be the best choice if you want something different.
- Adela — Another royal name, worn most notably by a daughter of William the conqueror.
- Giselle/Gisela/Gisella — A name fit for princesses and peasants. Two medieval royals to wear this name were Giselle of Bavaria, a queen of Hungary, and Gisela, daughter of Charles III. The name is probably more familiar to us a the simple peasant girl who falls in love with a disguised count in the Adolphe Adam’s 19th-century tragic ballet, Giselle.
- Graciela/Graziella — Spanish and Italian names meaning “grace.”
- Christabel — A highly literary choice, due to its use as the title character in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 19th-century poem.
- Jezebel — A biblical bad girl with a gorgeous name; still, I can’t help but feel that it’s not the ideal choice for a daughter. The biblical Jezebel brought idol worship into Israel and murdered numerous Jewish priests; she was eventually killed and eaten by dogs. In popular culture, the word Jezebel has become synonymous with a promiscuous woman, though this is not supported by the Bible text.
- Amabel — A medieval name meaning “lovable”; later reinterpreted as Annabel or Annabelle
- Bluebell — A flower name chosen by Geri Halliwell (a.k.a. Ginger Spice) for her daughter; perhaps better suited to the middle name slot.
If you’d like a less expected way to get to the nickname “Bella”, try:
- Belinda — A 17th-century coinage, possibly meaning “beautiful dragon” or “beautiful and tender.” Alexander Pope chose this name for the heroine of “The Rape of the Lock.” The fictional Belinda is modeled after the real Arabella. Though the name sounds dated to some, it is beginning to get some notice on baby naming message boards, and I think it could be due for a revival.
- Bellisant — An obscure medieval French name, appearing in the romance titled Valentine and Orson. I assume it should be pronounced bell-ih-SAHNT in French, though I suppose it could be Anglicized to BELL-ih-sint.
- Belicia — A Mexican elaboration of Isabel or Elizabeth, thus meaning “my God is an oath” or “dedicated to God”; properly pronounced bay-LEE-see-uh in Spanish
- Belladonna — The ultimate femme fatale name. While it literally means “beautiful woman” in Italian, it is another name for the highly toxic deadly nightshade plant.
- Bellamy — A Welsh surname, associated with American country music singers The Bellamy Brothers and 18th-century pirate Samuel Bellamy.
- Bellatrix — Means “female warrior.” Bellatrix is a star in the constellation Orion and a character in the Harry Potter books.
- Belina — While it’s the name of two European villages (one in Poland and one in Slovakia), it makes me think most of champagne cocktails (mmm… peach bellinis!) and Dorothy’s chicken in Return to Oz (though her name was spelled Billina).
- Bellona — The Roman goddess of war; her name is perhaps too similar to a common lunch meat to make this a suitable choice for a modern child.
- Belour — An Afghan name meaning “crystal.”
If it’s the “Izzy” potential that draws you, you might want to try:
- Isabeau — Isabelle and Isabeau were both medieval French forms of Elizabeth. While Isabelle caught on and spread throughout most of Europe (not unlike the bubonic plague), the historical record leaves us very few Isabeaus. The most notable is 14th-century Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen Consort of France and wife of Charles VI.
- Isidora/Isadora — Means “gift of Isis.” Spelled Isidora, the name was worn by a 6th century Egyptian saint and is currently very popular in Chile. Spelled Isadora, it makes us think of Isadora Duncan, the mother of Modern Dance.
- Isolde — Tristan’s beautiful love in Arthurian legend. If Tristan has made such a comeback, then why not Isolde? (While the pronunciation might not be as intuitive, most pronounce it ih-SOLD-uh or ih-ZOLD-uh. I’ve also heard it pronounced ih-SOOLT.)
- Isannah — Probably an 18th-century combination of Isabella and Hannah or Susannah. Paul Revere used it for one of his daughters, and it was picked up on by Esther Forbes for her historical novel Johnny Tremain. (I pronounce the name as eye-ZAN-uh, though it’s obscure enough you’d be free to pronounce it as you wish.)
- Isaura — A Latin name meaning “from Isauria” used occasionally in Spanish-speaking countries; pronounced ee-SAUW-ruh.
If you’re drawn to the name’s rhythm or overall feel, you might also like:
- Anastasia — If you’re looking for something with a European royalty vibe, consider Anastasia. It has the same rhythm as Isabella, and Anastasia was the daughter of Czar Nicholas II. The 1997 animated film adds to the little-girl princessy appeal.
- Evelina — If you’re drawn to Isabella’s romantic literary feel, consider Evelina. It has the same rhythm, and virtuous Evelina (pronounced ev-uh-LIE-nuh) was the title character in Frances Burney’s 18th century novel. The name probably means “desired.”
- Camilla/Camila — Camilla, like Isabella, sounds both thoroughly Victorian and thoroughly Latina. If you’re looking for something with similar cross-cultural appeal that will sound classic in both English and Spanish, Camilla’s a much less used option. The double-l spelling is more common in English; choose the single-l spelling to honor Spanish heritage.
- Magdalena — The Spanish, Scandinavian, and Eastern European version of Magdalene/Madeline/Madeleine. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a saint’s name, as Mary Magdalene was a biblical follower of Christ.
- Mariana — Those who remember the virtuous Shakespearean Isabella (from Measure for Measure) will likely also remember sweet Mariana. She was abandoned by her betrothed for lack of a dowry, and her plight inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1830 poem “Mariana of the Moated Grange.” Her name has the same frilly rhythm as Isabella, but it’s much less popular.
I’d love to hear which (if any) of these Isabella substitutes appeal most to you (or appeal the least), and please feel free to suggest others I haven’t listed.