Isis: from goddess to terrorist state. What’s in a name? Update: from Isis to Daesh?

ISIS1                   Isis2


Isis: she is the epitome of femininity, an Egyptian goddess worshipped as a mother and wife, a patroness of nature and magic. A friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, she’s a protector of the dead and a goddess of children and motherhood. Her name, meaning “woman of the throne”, is bestowed on thousands of girls taking their first breaths around the world; last year it was ranked as the 575th most popular girl’s name in the US. But now the gentle moniker of the fairer sex — in the form of a screaming acronym — has been hijacked by the world’s newest and most frightening embodiment of organized terror: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (commonly referred to as ISIS). Will Isis ever be able to throw off this new shroud of terror and regain its womanly strengths? [And see update re. the name “Daesh” below.]

Among the thousands of women named Isis around the world, there are a number of some renown: the actresses Isis Carmen Jones and Isis Valberde; the models Isis Casalduc, Isis Gomes, and Isis King (or Isis Tsunami), as well as 1954’s Miss Cuba, Isis Finaly; Isis Nyong’o, the Kenyan-American media and technology leader; and Isis Pogson, the late British astronomer and meteorologist, are but a few.
Isis names a famous river in England, a highway in Australia, and an aircraft instrument display. A lunar crater, a British prison and several tropical cyclones share the Egyptian goddess’s name, as does a grammatical sentence form and an opera by Lully. The list goes on: Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Isis” and so did the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; an American post-metal band, a ’70s all-female horn-rock band and an Australian rock band all wear the name proudly. A magazine, bridge, rowing crew and technology transfer company were all named after the famous river running through Oxford, and HMS Isis marks the sterns of several British Royal Navy ships.

Isis names many.

Some organizations that share their name (or acronym) with the terrorist group have felt compelled to change their monikers and identities to avoid any association with the fearsome young caliphate. The mobile payments app Isis Wallet, for example, is changing its name to Softcard. But this is something of a luxury that acronym-named establishments can afford: it’s just not that easy to change your name when you’re a band, a song, a river, or a person. Can every Isis on the planet — named for the goddess of womanly strengths — be expected to “re-brand” themselves for fear of being stained by the sins of a deadly mission?

The Institute for Science and International Security — a nuclear nonproliferation think-tank — is addressing this question head-on. Rather than shedding its newly-shameful handle, this ISIS is encouraging the world’s media not to use the acronym when referring to the terrorist group. “The widespread, persistent use of the acronym ISIS to refer to this terrorist organization continues to cause considerable confusion and is causing reputational harm to the many organizations and entities that also use this acronym. The Institute for Science and International Security, a non-profit institution which has used the acronym ISIS since 1993, would like to urge media and foreign policy analysts to no longer refer to Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham by the name ‘ISIS’ but to choose another alternative.” There are such alternatives available: the group is also known as IS (Islamic State) and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

May the world’s media follow this very worthy directive.

Meanwhile, below is a list — by no means exhaustive — of some of the entities, places, organizations, forces of nature and creative works that are proud to bear the Isis or ISIS name.

Update on 17 Nov, 2015:
As Laura Reston reported yesterday in the New Republic: “World leaders have taken to calling ISIS “Daesh,” a word the Islamic State hates. … Since the attacks in Paris, both John Kerry and François Hollande have used it. The Kurdish militants battling ISIS in Iraq already use the term regularly, though they risk losing their tongues by uttering it. … Daesh is an acronym. It stands for the Arabic name of the Islamic State: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. When Jen Percy, a New Republic contributor, went to northern Iraq this year, the Assyrian Christians waging a war against ISIS were calling ISIS troops “Daesh.” In her article for our September issue, she called it “a pejorative term for ISIS in Arabic.” … Zeba Khan, writing for the Boston Globe, has explained why “Daesh” could be read as an insult: “Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others.’”


The Isis, a part of the River Thames in Oxford, England
Isis, a journal focusing on the history of science, medicine and technology
Isis magazine, a student magazine at Oxford University
Isis (HM Prison), a young offenders institution located in London, England
Hurricane Isis, several tropical cyclones
Isis or double copula, an English sentence with the word is twice in succession
Isis, the Oxford University reserve rowing crew at the Boat Race

Places and geographical landmarks:

Isis Bridge, a bridge across the River Thames near Oxford, England
Isis Highway, an Australian highway
3 Isis Rivers in Australia: in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania
Isis Temple, a prominence in Grand Canyon, Arizona, US
Shire of Isis, a former local government area in Queensland, Australia

In transportation:

Integrated standby instrument system, a backup instrument display for aircraft
Integrated Sensor is Structure, a project to develop an airship for intelligence use
Morris Isis, a car by Morris Motors from 1929 to 1931 and a car from the British Motor Corporation in the 1950s
Toyota Isis, a seven-seat large MPV manufactured by Kanto Auto Works under contract for Japanese automaker Toyota
ISIS Drive, (International Splined Interface Standard) a bicycle bottom bracket interface specificatio
Isis (ship), a grain ship of Ancient Rome, described by Lucian
HMS Isis, several British Royal Navy ships
USC&GS Isis, an early 20th-century survey ship

In science:

Isis (genus), a soft coral genus
Isis (lunar crater)
ISIS neutron source, a pulsed neutron and muon source
ISIS (satellite), a series of Canadian satellites designed to study the ionosphere
42 Isis, an asteroid

In music:

Isis (band), an American post-metal band
Isis (Brisbane band), a rock band
Isis (horn-rock band), a 1970s all-female band
Isis (Lully), a 1677 opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully and Philippe Quinault
“Isis” (song), by Bob Dylan
“Isis”, a song from the album Voyage to Isis by Delta-S
“Isis”, a song from the EP Is Is by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

In computers and programming:

Isis (mobile payment system), a joint venture between US wireless carriers
ISIS (operating system), used on the Intel 8085 processor
IS-IS, a network routing protocol
Integrated Scientific Information System, software programs including the MDL Chime plug-in
ISIS/Draw, a chemistry modeling program
ISIS Modelling Software, a river modelling software
ISIS Papyrus, a Swiss-based software vendor
CDS ISIS, a non-numerical information storage and retrieval software developed by UNESCO
Image and Scanner Interface Specification, an interface for image scanning technologies
Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers, a software to process images and spectra collected by NASA planetary missions
Infinitely Scalable Information Storage, a video storage system from Avid Technology
ISIS, a variant of the JOSS programming language
ISIS, a networking tool, part of Proteus

Fictional characters:

Cartoon characters named Isis in Bluewater Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, StargateBattlestar Galactica; and Isis Eaglet in Magical Chronicle Lyrical Nanoha Force

Organizations with the acronym ISIS:

ISIS Pharmaceuticals: a biomedical pharmaceutical company working on new treatments for Crohn’s Disease.

The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society: an organization of writers that promotes the ideas of secularism, democracy and human rights within Islamic society. Part of the Center for Inquiry.

Institute of Science in Society: an interest group that campaigns against what it sees as unethical uses of biotechnology. The group published about climate change, GMOs, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and water memory.

International Species Information System: an international non-profit organization serving more than 800 zoos and aquariums in 80 countries.

Isis Innovation Ltd: a British technology transfer company: a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Oxford, managing technology transfer and academic consulting for Oxford



14 thoughts on “Isis: from goddess to terrorist state. What’s in a name? Update: from Isis to Daesh?

  1. Catherine Newton

    Would,Isis who was a goddess who worked for the rights of women approve of most of these uses of her name

  2. Mauricio

    What a perfect and perverse trick.

    Isis goddess of magick and motherly figure, encompassing symbol of the Sacred Feminine and all that that represents: Care, compassion, love, guidance, tenderness,mercy, light…etc.

    And then with a sleight of hand ( massive media reach) her name becomes a symbol of EVERYTHING that is the opposite to her: Cruelty, death, anger, revenge, blood bath, destruction, darkness …. and millions of unsuspecting passive “Media Consumers” ( aka “just watching the news..”) start projecting and resonating those opposite images and feelings, every time her name is pronounced ….

    The current times are characterized by the almost routinely “ritual killing” .. of the sacred feminine, this is expressed vertically ( phallic ) at all levels of society : the obliteration of the education and health care systems, the almost total extirpation of the “Arts and Humanities” from education curricula, and the rampant increase of violence and degradation towards women ( and the image of women) through almost every single “Cultural” outlet …..we are currently being witnesses to the total annihilation of the sacred feminine ( the right side of the brain) at every turn in our current “western civilized life style” …encouraging competition instead of cooperation (from the cradle to the grave), the glorification and constant justification for war and so on…. by this ritual killing of the sacred feminine ( annihilation of the soul,annihilation of the right side of the brain, intuition and so forth) totally imbalanced generations of inhuman beings are being ushered from school age, imbalanced humans beings are easy pray to manipulation and control.

    There are some really dark magickians out there.

    1. KaGirl

      HEAR HEAR!!!! I Second this comment!!!
      My thoughts exactly…a society is measured by how it treats its ‘lowest’ class citizens,i.e. criminals/addicts/homeless…and WOMEN….for this reason only is it socially ‘acceptable’ for this terrorist group to be named Isis. The history and force that the name Isis embodies is sacred to human history and the evolution of values for all mankind. If the acronym for the terrorists had somehow spelled,’real man’ ,I guarantee it would not have caught on in the media and been promoted as Isis has been. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the initials of Iraq, Syria, spell ‘IS ‘ but see the last county is actually Lybia and the proper name was ISIL….so the fact that the powers that be have promoted the name ISIS related to terrorism so much is totally a biased and prejudicial gouge at women. The government and media need to care more about the label now associated with the name ISIS. As far as I can tell allowing them to get media coverage by the name ISIS is an act of terrorism itself. Every time terrorists are referred to by that name it degrades society a little more.

  3. Iggy B

    Balance of duality within each person —

    I’m not sure feminists of every age would agree that Occultic sex magick with an aim of honoring the melting of feminine and masculine power to produce higher power – whether enlightenment or some other supernatural effect – were terrible feministic….

    Of course there is not one single definition of Isis…

    But, it is also clear, there has been teachings in a similar ballpark stretched out over centuries that are loosely called the Mystery Religions — in part because they argued that only a handful of people who were able to push past the surface, symbolic meaning of Isis and other key gods/concepts — to become Enlightened Human Beings – who through correct understanding + ritualistic, symbolic practice, could become like gods themselves…

    It is also undeniable when reading the historical texts — the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim bibles all have End Times prophecies about what will happen at some point in the future — but the Islamic texts teach the opposite of who the good guys and bad guys will turn out to be…

    Christians are taught to read and accept the Jewish prophecies – because they are added to the Christian Bible in the form of the Old Testament.

    Muslims are taught in their prophecies that Jesus will come back one day, join with a different Messiah, and slaughter the Jews and Christians who will not accept that Jesus was just a man and both the Christians and Jews of the past had grossly corrupted God’s Word.

    Jews are taught that the entire world will be against them in their darkest day in the future but the Messiah will come to destroy their enemies and establish Israel as promised to Moses and Abraham and through the Jews the whole world will learn about God’s Will.

    Christians are taught that this Warrior Messiah that the Jewish prophecies teach will be the 2nd Coming of Jesus who will perform the actions as the Jewish scriptures predict.

    We can dismiss one or all of them as nonsense.

    We can’t get away with denying what the historical record has to say in the texts themselves unless we just choose to ignore them…

  4. stephan serth

    Too much over taking from feminism and male both brings to the table strengths learn both be stronger for it Those whome pick one over the based on your belief system are the fool hearty

  5. Kimberly R Titter

    Please don’t let terrorist take the name of our Goddess. Media please refer them as ISIL or Daesh call them anything just don’t give them the satisfaction to defile a sacred name of our Goddess ISIS, she has been around a lot longer and she deserves respect. Asalam Malak um (Nice to be meeting you) or how ever they spell it.

  6. nelson sandoval

    Isis the godess is only a human invention. The statues of her and Ra, Zeus, Thor, crucified Christ, the Saints and others are only inert matter, artwork but inert. If the gods are spirits then they doesn’t have physical body and cannot be represented by any human or animal form because spirit creatures are invisible. You, men and women are more important than every inert thing. And if we will worship something then that thing must be the God that give us our life.

  7. Angelz

    Isis is in our hearts , even if some other *groups* were to use her name. it is clear that they are different too.

  8. Catherine

    This is HATHOR and very insulting. Female gods are depicted like porn queens, it’s frustrating and foolish. What’s in a name though, right? Alot, in Egyptology. It’s HATHOR.

  9. Isis H.

    I know I’m a little late to this post, but being named Isis long before the terrorist organization came about, I am grateful to see articles like this one. It had been many years since the emergence if this group, but a name I was once proud of I still feel ashamed and scared to tell others for the sh*t I recieve in return, having people judge my character in a negative light due to my name. Thank you for this piece.

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