L Is For Lisa, Whose Looks Are DeceivingS

The name Lisa conjures up visions of lip gloss and My Little Ponies, but Lisas aren't necessarily ditsy — even if they sometimes seem that way.

It's partly the sound of the name — that soft l, that sibilant s — that makes Lisa sound kind of ditsy and insubstantial. And it's partly the association with Lisa Frank that makes me think of Lisas as obsessed with pink and unicorns and not much else. To me, Lisa is a bit of an airhead name. She's a hot girl, and she puts a lot of effort into her hotness — practicing her hair flip, applying and reapplying her mascara in homeroom. As a result, she doesn't have a lot of time for other pursuits — like, say, reading. She chews gum, she knows a lot about TV, she has a Valley-girl accent no matter where she's from. She definitely dots her i's with hearts.

But a quick look at famous Lisas blows my Lisa prejudices right out of the water. We have, for instance, journalist Lisa Ling, whose impassioned pleas for the release of her sister Laura from North Korea were anything but airheaded. There's Lisa Leslie, the first woman to dunk in the WNBA, who's been outspoken about girls and sports. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC — who used to wear a condom over her left eye to promote safe sex — had her problems, but ditsiness wasn't one of them. And, of course, one of pop culture's most famous Lisas is Lisa Simpson, the brains and conscience of her entire family.

So where did my Lisa stereotypes come from? I do think a lot of the blame falls on the ever-popular purveyor of rainbow-colored school supplies, but just because something is rainbow doesn't mean it's dumb. In fact, I may just be buying into the damaging assumption that only a certain kind of girl likes makeup or pretty things — one Lisa Leslie herself has actually challenged. More than anything, I think I'm remembering girls I went to school with in the 80s and 90s, when Lisa was still a pretty popular name (it slipped from #31 in America to #118 during that time). These Lisas knew their way around the eye shadow and a blow dryer back when I was still using butterfly clips to keep my hair out of my eyes, and I think I assumed that beauty maintenance crowded everything else out of their skulls. But maybe I was wrong.

I still think Lisa's a name with lip gloss all over it — note that Lisa Ling always appeared perfectly coiffed, and that Lisa Leslie has worked as a model. But makeup does not an airhead make. Lisa Simpson once said, "beneath my goody two shoes lie some very dark socks," and beneath the name's highly buffed exterior frequently lies some serious badassery and wit. Lisas of the world, I owe you an apology.

Lisa [Wikipedia]
Lisa [The Baby Name Wizards]

Earlier: K Is For Kate, Who Kicks Ass, Takes Names
J Is For Jennifer, The Vanilla Of Names
I Is For Isabel, Who's Snooty, But Earns It
H Is For Hillary, A Barrel Of Laughs
G Is For Grace - What's That Up Her Sleeve?
F Is For Francesca, And I Wish I Were Her
E Is For Emily, Who Seems Sweet (At First)
D Is For Danielle (Or Dani, Who's Apparently Kinda Judgey)
C Is For Courtney, Who's Too Cool For School
B is for Beth (And Barack! And Bandana!)
A Is For Anna: What My First Name Says About Me