A composite view of women with an unusual first name
© by Reesa Marchetti
It’s a vacation planet on “Star Trek.” But some women here want to know how on Earth they got the uncommon name, “Risa.”
Is it Hebrew, Latin, Spanish, French, or just a mother’s whim?
For a title whose holders are relatively few, it has many different spellings — Reesa, Resa, Reza, Riza, Reisa, Riesa, Rise, Ritza, Rizsa, Raisa, etc. What better place for these uniquely named women to find each other than on the Internet?
Of 41 women who posted in the Reesa Society discussion group when it started in November 1998, 14 were named after a grandmother or great-grandmother. In most cases, the grandmother’s name was not actually Risa, but a similar-sounding moniker such as Ruth, Reba, Riva, Rebecca, or Rose.
When this website started, quite a few who took the “Reesa Survey” cited opera singer Risë Stevens (who appeared in such movies as “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby in the ‘50s) as their parents’ inspiration for the appellation. For others, it was their father, Reese or Reece, from whom the name derived.
One Risa, who was named after her Russian-Jewish grandmother, Ritza, said that in Hebrew, Reesa is a computer program that “keeps on running.” As a child, this Risa was teased so much about her name that she changed it to Lisa in junior high school.
As an adult, she came to appreciate it.
“Risa is mentioned once in the Bible,” she said. “It was a stop in the desert when Moses and his followers were wandering around for 40 years.”
Several women referred to a Christian Biblical note as the source of their name. Graphic artist Rhesa Langley, whose father is a minister, said her name came from Luke 3:27. “It describes the genealogy of Jesus, and Rhesa is one of the names in there,” she explained. “It’s actually a man’s name — I know it’s so because the scripture only lists the father and sons.”
In Latin, Risa means “laughter” or “one who laughs.” Chicago accountant Reesa Kelly is dating a man from Latin America.
“He always sings this song to me in Spanish with the word `Risa’ in it,” she says. “It’s great.”
The culture/religion of the first women who took the survey or posted comments on the Reesa Society Web site was:
- 17, Jewish
- 1, Lutheran
- 1, Southern Presbyterian
- 1, Irish
- 2, Japanese/part-Japanese
- 1, Norwegian, English, French
- 1, Indonesian
- 1, Muslim
- 1, Filipino/Mexican/Native American
- 18, not identified
The “Real” Spelling of Reesa
When she was growing up, Reesa Ryan says she was always told that the name came from medieval German and means “woman giant.” She finds it amusing that after years of thinking she was the “only one,” the Internet showed her otherwise. When she tried to register for an e-mail address, the name “Reesa” was already taken.
Risa Kay Hayes says the real spelling of her name is “Risë” with two dots (an umlaut) over the “e”, just like the opera singer whose name her dad “loved.” But she changed it because everyone called her “rise” with a long “I.”
Risa Morrow of Tulsa, Okla., and Risa Dickson, also of Oklahoma, both changed the spelling of their names for the same reason.
In elementary school, Morrow experienced the name confusion as early as first grade. “My mom and I went to see my homeroom class assignment, and I was horrified to see my name on the list under the boys section,” she said. “So, needless to say, I did not appreciate my name at that time.”
Plus, her mother warned her if there was ever “trouble in their town involving someone named Risa,” everyone would know it was her — since she was the only one. “What an incentive to stay out of trouble,” Morrow recalled.
Home Country of Reesa
Where does Risa live? While most come from various parts of the United States, some have responded from Canada and from other continents as far away as Australia.
And although one Risa, who is of Japanese heritage, said typical Japanese girls’ names end with “ko,” there is at least one other Japanese Risa: a lingerie model named Risa Honda.
Risa Masuda said as a child, she hated her name because it didn’t end with a “ko” sound.
“Then, I came to the U.S. ten years ago,” she says, “and I kinda started to like it.”
Riesa Zanuddin of Melbourne, Australia, said she was named after a “what, not a who.”
In her case, the name was derived from her Zodiac sign. When she was born, her father had expected a boy, and had not prepared any girl’s names. So he turned Aries around to Riesa.
“Well, at first I didn’t even like my name,” she said. “I did not think that it has any special meaning, but then since you mention it, Risa is the one who laughs. I told everyone about it and they all said, `No wonder you laugh a lot.’ ”
Growing Up Reesa
Growing up may be one of the cruelest stages in life, with children taunting their playmates for the same little oddities that are later seen through adult eyes as charming.
As kids, many Risas hated the name because they were teased about it, but all said they appreciate it now that they have matured. Others proclaimed they liked their name from the start.
“I’ve always loved my name because it was so unique,” Risa of Nails by Risa in Southern California said. “I’ve actually had one customer who legally changed her name to Risa after meeting me.”
Jokes about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, as well as confusion about the pronunciation (“Do you mean Lisa?”) are a shared experience among Risas.
Risa Belinda recalled the embarrassment she felt when a college professor mispronounced the name and asked if “Rise-a” was present.
Reesa Kay Hughes loathed her name so much she changed it to Teresa in high school.
“A few years after high school I started to appreciate my name, changed it back,” she said, “and now I love it.”
As a youngster, Reesa Sorin of New South Wales, Australia (originally from Winnipeg, Canada) used to “plague” her mother to change her name to Mary. She says her Hebrew name is Rifka.
Of the middle names that accompany Risa, many of the respondents listed Kay, Lee, or Ann.
Yakima, Wash., resident Reesa Zuber has found that Risa is a common name where she lives.
“There are lots of Risas in this area. It is a popular Spanish name,” she said. “There is even another Reesa a few years younger than my daughter who is now 19.”
Reesa Zuber agrees, saying that all the Risas she knows are of Mexican ancestry and are Catholic.
“Many Hebrew names were absorbed into the romance languages of Spanish, French, and Italian,” she says.
A Diverse Group
Members of the Reesa Society are a diverse group ranging in age from teen-aged to 50 and over. Their occupations include accountant, nail artist, high school student, homemaker, college professor, graduate student in criminal justice, real estate agent, TV producer, journalist, Web developer, musician, technical writer, lawyer, college student, astrologer, photo editor, Internet service provider, and educator-librarian.
But Risa Rio of Oregon may be the most unique of the entire group — she is a pit bull named after Rio Risa, the River of Laughter.
Many Risas feel that having a unique name has inspired their creativity. All bemoan the fact that they can never find a personalized key chain with their name on it.
But if the name’s popularity continues to increase, maybe someday Risa will be up there on the rack, right next to Mary and Sue.