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Women named Isis face backlash over Islamic State acronym

Women named Isis say they are being stigmatized and are facing a backlash because of the acronym ISIS used to refer to the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. A petition and public awareness campaign launched by a Miami woman named Isis call on media outlets to use ISIL instead.

A petition calls on media outlets to stop using ISIS acronym and a lawsuit could be ahead

Isis Martinez wore this nametag at a conference she attended last year. Martinez has started a petition asking media outlets to stop using the acronym ISIS because of the backlash women with her name are experiencing. (Isis Martinez)

Women named Isis say they are experiencing a backlash because of the acronym ISIS that is widely used to refer to the jihadist group, and they are pleading with media outlets to stop using it.

They have launched a campaign to share what they are going through and to pressure media to switch from ISIS, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, to ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The organization itself is using the name Islamic State, but that has not been adopted by most Western media organizations, including the CBC, which refers to the group as ISIS. 

What to call the group and how to translate its Arabic name into English have been matters of debate. 

What is not in doubt is that women named Isis now have a name associated with militants responsible for enslaving women and grotesque acts of violence, including the beheadings of American journalists and British aid workers.

At the forefront of the "Save Our Name" campaign is a Miami woman named Isis Martinez. In a YouTube video she says that the last few weeks have been "incredibly challenging."

"My name is Isis, I love my name. Or so, I loved it a lot more before," she says.

In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Martinez said the negative reactions to her name began in late August and while at first it was annoying, it soon became upsetting.

"It has affected me. People react almost every time," she said.

The last straw came when she was at a hospital and the intake worker asked how to pronounce her name.

"Her face showed such incredible sadness for me and she said she felt bad for me and proceeded to ask if I had a middle name I could go by instead," says Martinez.

Petition created to 'Save Our Name'

Martinez was named after her mother, who, like many other women named Isis, was named after an Egyptian goddess. She said she will not go by another name and neither should the thousands of other women who share it.

Martinez created a "Save Our Name" Facebook page and then someone who saw it asked if she had started a petition. She hadn't but the question inspired her to turn to the Care 2 petition website and set one up. It asks the media to "stop calling the terrorists by our name." Her goal was to gather 1,000 signatures. It now has more than 37,000.

The Facebook page is also serving as a platform for women named Isis and parents whose children have the name to share their stories. Martinez said she's been told about children being teased and parents who are constantly asked if they intend to change their child's name.

"I cringe every time my sweet baby's name is mentioned in the media as an acronym to a fanatical terrorist group," one woman wrote on the page.
Isis Martinez, shown in her Twitter profile photo, started a Facebook page and petition that asks media outlets to stop using the acronym ISIS to refer to the jihadist group. (Isis Martinez/Twitter)

"I have spent many years building a good name for myself and being a positive role model for women in general. It is very disheartening to see the name Isis defamed and used in such an ugly light in just a matter of weeks. My parents named me Isis because of the strong, positive connotation this name carries," wrote Isis Ardrey, a woman in Toledo, Ohio. 

A father in Portland, Ore., spoke to a local news station about his three-year-old daughter named Isis.

"You want to call her name and you get weird looks now and that's not acceptable," David Emami told KATU news channel. "I don't feel like we should be paying the price for the inaccurate use of an acronym."

Isis is 'a beautiful name'

"It's a beautiful name," Emami said. "She's named after an Egyptian goddess. To see it be misused in such a form, it's gut-wrenching, it hurts."

Martinez, who has been in touch with Emami, said sharing a name with ISIS is taking an emotional toll, but also a financial one, since her line of work in holistic health involves working with clients. 

"I love my name, but I can't help but hold back from introducing myself right away," Martinez told CBC, adding that the connotation is constantly on her mind now.

Martinez, Emami and others might launch a class action lawsuit because of the damage they say is being caused to them.

"We are putting the media on notice, officially on notice. We don't want it to have to get to that but if we know that media outlets are well aware of what they're doing and they continue to do it, we're not left with any other choice," she said. Martinez said they aren't looking for money, they just want the media to use another name.

While she's not going to change her name, the animated television series Archer has dropped its use of ISIS, which was the fictional spy agency at the heart of the show for the last five seasons. It stood for International Secret Intelligence Service.

The show's creator Adam Reed told the Daily Beast that he and the executive producers had hoped the jihadist group ISIS would become irrelevant, but it has only become more prominent and continues to dominate the news cycles.

In light of how ISIS has taken hold in mainstream language, they made the decision to scrub ISIS from the show, and the characters will work for the CIA instead in the upcoming season. They still have a problem however: what to do with piles of Archer merchandise with ISIS branding on it.

"I guess that's all going to a landfill somewhere," Reed told the Daily Beast.

Women named Isis, however, aren't giving up on their name so easily. In addition to the petition, Facebook page, and potential lawsuit, they are about to release a video montage put together by Martinez. About 20 women introduce themselves, "Hi, my name is Isis," and they ask the media to stop using their name. 

"There's no need to contribute to the backlash that we're experiencing," said Martinez.

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