The synopsis is: we have the long-standing popularity of the name "Isabelle" and context that much of the English speaking world has been influenced by Christianity for centuries. It appears that "Isabelle" and "Jezebel" have a (at least a partial) common origin:

Isabella is a feminine given name, which is the Latinised form of Hebrew Elisheba (whence also Elizabeth) or the Latinised form of Jezebel (אִיזֶבֶל‎, ʾĪzével, ʾĪzeḇel).


With this in mind, it is noteworthy that the differences between the two names go beyond the God/Baal dimension. Etymologies concerning Isabelle not only use "God" in place of baal, but also sound more pleasant: "Oath to God", "God is plenty", ect. Compare this to the theonym of Jezebel which has negative-sounding sobriquets: "devotee of Baal", "vestal virgin of Baal", "concubine of Baal".

One could argue that "Baal" can also just mean lord in Hebrew. However, given how ubiquitous the story of Jezebel is, it would be hard to imagine how a Christian society would look past the literary connotation of Baal as in the Canaanite deity, of whom Jezebel was the infamous priestess.


Why were some theophoric names, like "Isabelle" tolerated as holdovers despite a transparent paper trail that traces the name to its Canaanite pantheon roots, while other Biblical names, such as "Judas" appear to have far less sympathy?

Note: Just academic interest into the matter, nothing personal against anyone named "Isabelle"!

  • 1
    Isn't it also plausible that the name came from "Elisheba"?
    – alphabet
    Jun 6, 2023 at 2:19
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    What I find strange is that Delilah is apparently a popular name in the USA. Jun 6, 2023 at 7:56
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    "Isabelle" is a synonym for "Elizabeth", not "Jezebel". Specifically, the French synonym, later borrowed into English. You must remember that Christianity was - and is - practiced by speakers of many languages, and each language transliterated the Biblical names in its own way. Sometimes in multiple, often highly divergent ways. James and Jacob are synonyms, as are Jesus and Joshua
    – No Name
    Jun 6, 2023 at 20:35
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    @KateBunting I'd speculate all those american Delilah's were named after the woman in the Tom Jones song rather than the one in the Bible.... but I could be wrong 😀
    – Fraser Orr
    Jun 7, 2023 at 1:08
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    Quite apart from etymology, many – probably most – English speakers know that belle and bella means ‘beautiful’ in Romance languages, and Isabel(le/la) contains that at the end. Contemporary associations trump etymology in virtually all cases. Jun 7, 2023 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


I don't think your etymology is correct. The name of the Canaanite god was Baal, with a glottal stop represented with the Hebrew letter ayin בַּעַל (Ba-al) which I don't think corresponds with the last syllable of אִיזֶבֶל Isabel.

Note Isabel is the most common spelling in English.

According to etymology online Isabel is in fact a variant spelling of Elizabeth אֱלִישֶׁבַע Elisheva, who was the wife of Aaron the high priest.

fem. proper name, a form of Elizabeth that seems to have developed in Provence.

So, what I think we have here is a false friend. The Isabel of אִיזֶבֶל is not the source of the modern English word at all. In fact the modern name (and presumably its various romance language equivalents) is a variant of Elizabeth, which comes form a entirely different source.

Elizabeth's Hebrew roots convey the idea of God (El) is my oath (sheva), which seems to be quite a good association with a perfectly well regarded woman in the Bible.

As an aside, more to do with Hebrew than English, that word "oath" sheva (or sometimes sheba, depending on how you transliterate one of the letters) means, an oath or a covenant. Beersheba, for example, is the well of oath. However, it also means "seven" as in the number seven, which is probably why in the Bible the number seven is often associated with the divine or heavenly things.

  • The name of the Canaanite god was Baal Hadad. His father was El. El was also the father of Yahweh.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 6, 2023 at 17:22
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    @Greybeard Do you have a source for "El was also the father of Yahweh?" That's some theology that's new to me...better yet, is there a family tree somewhere showing all three or more? I'm wondering if Baal Zebub is another brother. Jun 6, 2023 at 18:30
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    Zevel (V and B same letter) means dung in Hebrew. Eee-zevel (Without-dung, No-shit) is not a flattering name. Not sure that Baal, her deity, played a role in her name...or whether the author of Kings was dumping on her. Jun 6, 2023 at 21:29
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    @Greybeard - Surely Yahweh is God, who by definition is of all time and didn't need a father? But this is straying into theology and away from the English language. Jun 7, 2023 at 8:00
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    @KateBunting The definition is definitely not "from all time". Yahweh worship did not start until about 16th c. BC. At that time, he seems to have been Canaanite /Levantine god and related to earlier gods. The two separate creation myths that are combined in Genesis makes the distinction between El (the creator god) and Yahweh, in a rather confused manner.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 7, 2023 at 10:20

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