Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade woman named Isis wants public to change how it refers to terrorist group

Isis Martinez
Isis Martinez Courtesy to the Miami Herald

Let’s play a game of word association.

The word?


The association?

Terror or violence or maybe fear instilled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a terrorist group commonly referred to as ISIS.

But one Miami-area woman is trying to remind people that it’s a woman’s name.

Isis Martinez, 38, started a petition on urging the media to refer to the group as ISIL, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, to purge her and other women’s names of the negative connotation.

“Whenever I was at a public place or a restaurant, there would be TV monitors with tickers at the bottom: ‘ISIS warns,’ ‘ISIS kills,’ ‘ISIS threat,’” she said. “Every word after my name is incredibly negative.”

Until the terror group surfaced, Isis was best known as an ancient Egyptian goddess in mythology.

The petition has gained about 5,000 signatures since Martinez started it in late August, many of them in the last week since it sparked attention from local and national media outlets. On Saturday, in the latest horror, the group beheaded a British aide worker, following the murders of two American journalists.

Martinez and other supporters say ISIS is an inaccurate name and that the media should follow President Barack Obama’s lead in calling the group ISIL.

But the question isn’t one of accuracy as much as transliteration from Arabic to English, said South Miami-based foreign policy analyst Marsha Cohen.

“Everything about the title is somewhat negotiable,” said Cohen, who also taught as an adjunct lecturer at Florida International University for a decade. “It’s dependent upon who is doing the speaking and who is doing the listening.”

It’s tough to translate the group’s Arabic name — al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham. Dawla is state, Islamiya is Islamic and Iraq is Iraq. Sham refers to Syria and its bordering countries (other than Iraq). In that case, ISIL would be the more accurate translation.

But, in calling it that, “you’re legitimizing this organization’s claim not only to Iraq and Syria, but to the whole Middle East,” Cohen said.

Her suggestion? Call it DIIS, an acronym formed from the Arabic name. However, she admitted that most media outlets wouldn’t make the switch from English.

Cohen also pointed out that many organizations share in Martinez’s struggle.

The Daily Telegraph wrote about the struggle of a nonprofit organization called the Institute for Science and International Security that refers to itself as ISIS. And the Palm Beach Post reported that developers changed the name of a new condominium going up in West Palm Beach from ISIS Downtown to 3 Thirty Three Downtown.

Many have suggested that Martinez go by her middle name, Teresa. But to her, changing her name would mean letting the terrorists win.

“I can’t rebrand myself,” she said. “This is my heritage.”

She’s been able to reach out through social media to many others named Isis who have signed the petition in support. But others view the campaign as selfish.

“Too bad Lady, it is not about YOU, it is about the description of the terrorist killers,” commented a user on a story. “When they are gone, your problem will be gone. It will continue to be called ISIS.”

Despite the bad feedback, Martinez is optimistic that her petition could spark a change.

Until then, she’s prepared to endure the pitying looks when she introduces herself to strangers, the shocked reactions when someone calls out to her and the double take from the Starbucks barista writing her name on a coffee cup.