Editor’s note: This post originally ran on August 8, 2008 and was revised and re-posted on December 27, 2011.
Eight is considered a lucky number in many cultures. Turn it on its side, and 8 resembles the infinity symbol: ∞. In Mandarin, “eight” sounds like the word for “good fortune.”
Thanks to Natalie for suggesting Octavia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Octavia is an old Roman family name. The Emperor Augustus was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, and the feminine form was bestowed on two of his sisters. Octavia Minor – the second born – married Mark Antony and appears in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
Octavia Minor’s great-granddaughter was called Octavia, too. This unhappy bearer of the name was wed to the Emperor Nero, who divorced, banished and eventually murdered her. In history, at least, the ill-fated noblewoman comes out the victor. Seneca turned her tragedy into a play, and operas by Handel, Kaiser and Monteverdi also tell her tale.
The history of Octavia’s use in the US is curious. From 1880 to 1928, the name consistently appeared in the Top 1000. The era was good to the classics; other names charting in the Top 1000 included Homer, Virgil, Julius, Cassius, and Lucius for boys and Minerva, Cornelia, Claudia, Aurelia, and Valeria, for girls. President Zachary Taylor gave the name to a daughter born in 1816, but she died in childhood.
Octavia left the Top 1000 in 1938, but resurfaced in 1971. She made it as high as #485, then disappeared again after 1999.
A few famous Octavias in recent years have included:
- The evil octopus creature from the cartoon She-Ra: Princess of Power, a He-Man spin-off originally aired from 1985 to 1987. Lest you attribute the name’s rise to the show, it should be noted that Adora – She-Ra’s alter-ego – failed to chart even once;
- Octavia E. Butler, the prominent science fiction author. She published her first novel in 1976 and has worn Nebula and Hugo awards, as well as a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant;
- The heroine of bestselling author Jilly Cooper’s romance Octavia, published in 1977. Given the titles of some of her other works from the late 70s – Emily, Bella, Harriet, Imogen and Prudence – Cooper’s got a knack for names.
Could it be tied to Robert Graves’ tales of the Roman Empire I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God? Published in 1934, it became a BBC miniseries in 1976. After success in the UK, it aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. The Emperor Claudius was the grandson of Marc Antony and Octavia Minor, and named one his daughters Octavia – the poor thing who married Nero. Maybe – but the recent BBC/HBO miniseries failed to spark additional interest in the name.
Octavia has a long history of use and an appealing sound that would fit right in with Isabella and Olivia, but still stand out. Nickname Tavy is equally distinctive – vibrant and vaguely boyish, but not in a bad way.
Parents searching for a subtle musical appellation could also consider Octavia for her relation to the term octave. If girls are named Harmony and Cadence, why not Octavia?
If you’re looking for a distinctive name that fits in while stands out, Octavia is a sterling option.