An Irish girl called Isis: 'I have always liked my name'

Isis Oriana Petrova Godfrey-Glynn was born in Galway 34 years ago. In her 20s, the meaning of her name changed for many people, but not for Isis herself

 Isis Oriana Petrova Godfrey-Glynn: “It has calmed down a little. I haven’t got as many weird reactions recently.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Isis Oriana Petrova Godfrey-Glynn: “It has calmed down a little. I haven’t got as many weird reactions recently.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne


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Hold those headlines. Hold that thought. It hasn’t always been this way.

Isis Oriana Petrova Godfrey-Glynn, who was born in Galway 34 years ago, acquired her name three months into her mother’s pregnancy.

“I suppose it is a name she had always liked,” Isis says. “The association she had was with the goddess Isis. She is such a powerful figure. She is the original life goddess – life rebirth, fertility, everything. She is the big one.”

The goddess Isis was big in Egypt and would become big in Greece and Rome. She even gave early Christianity a run for its money.

Isis thinks that her dad was more swayed by Bob Dylan’s 1975 ballad of the same name. He is a big Dylan fan, so the deal was sealed.

“I have always liked my name,” Godfrey-Glynn tells The Irish Times. “It is my identity. It is me. I couldn’t imagine being anyone else.”

Initially it worked out well for Isis. She moved to Wales, where she would grow up getting mildly teased for having a strange name, but the phonetic pronunciation Is-Is is the best the kids in the schoolyard could come up with.

Another meaning

By 2011, “Isis” had acquired a different meaning. The jihadist group Islamic State had commandeered the name, and the group was designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.

Islamic State now controls swaths of Syria and Iraq, shows off its handiwork daily via Twitter and YouTube to bolster its image as a transnational terrorist organisation, and has sophisticated command, control, propaganda and logistical capabilities. For different reasons, in different places, people are terrified of these Islamists.

So what does this mean for the young woman who is now training to be a goldsmith in Dublin?

“What has changed? The times. The connotations. The association with the word. It has been bastardised by the media as a very catchy name for a terrorist group.”

For many people, concocting the acronym “Isis” as shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seems logical and quite convenient. For others, “Isis” is their actual name.

“It has calmed down a little,” says Godfrey-Glynn. “I haven’t got as many weird reactions recently. At one point, say about two years ago, it got very strange. People think it is okay to comment on my name, to have an opinion on my name.”

“I used to work in a physiotherapy clinic, where we all wore name tags. People of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all religions, of all races would come up to me and some would have a good comment, some would want to say something nice. Others, not so nice.”

Everyone had a comment, though.

“I can understand there can be an awkward reaction,” she says. “When I tell someone my name is Isis, I can see them thinking: how do I react to this? So, yes, I can understand that there is a sense of awkwardness, but some people are outright insulted by it.”

Genuinely disgusted

One in particular sticks in her mind. “One lady, who must have been in her 50s, was just staring at my name tag in the clinic and looking very uncomfortable. And she said: ‘Would you not be more considerate and change you name?”

“That is the one time I have been upset about it. She was genuinely disgusted by my name. She really was. I really like my name. It is part of me. It is part of my identity. I couldn’t imagine being anyone but Isis.”

That said, Godfrey-Glynn states that she will not be naming any of her children Isis.

“Right now? Probably not. And I don’t mean that because I’m ashamed of my name. But, at the same time, it has got that association . . . They get to an age when they are old enough to understand what people are saying, so why would you call your child that? That would be mean.

“I didn’t have to start off a as child with people being rude about it. I don’t think anyone else has the right to have an opinion about my name. It is my name and I like it. It is part of me. I have had this name for 34 years and I’ve always loved it.

“I don’t see why I should be made to feel bad because it was chosen as a catchy name for what is a really sh*t situation.