Otis: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on June 16, 2014

English: Lower landing platform and wooden tre...

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 1, 2008.  It was substantially revised and reposted on June 16, 2014.

Not one, but two, high profile Hollywood couples have chosen this vintage name with musical ties for their sons in recent years.

Thanks to Another for suggesting Otis as today’s Baby Name of the Day.

There’s something clunky about Otis, but his most famous bearer is downright musical.

Otis Redding, Jr.’s songs are immortal. Hits like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay,” earned Redding a spot in the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame and, eventually, a lifetime achievement Grammy.  All this despite Redding’s tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 26.  “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” was actually released posthumously.

The musician lends the name a strong artistic tone, along the lines of Lennon or Miles.

And yet, as well known as Redding remains, I hesitate every time I say his first name.  It’s pronounced with a long O sound – OH tis, rhymes with oat and boat.  But my instinct is pronounce it like AH tis, the same way his cousin Otto is pronounced.

Speaking of Otto, Otis is to Otto as Davis is to David – originally a surname form.  Otto comes from the Germanic odo - fortune or wealth.  Like many a surname, Otis has a long history of use as a given name, too.

Elisha Otis developed a safety feature that improved on fledgling elevator technology, an innovation that made modern skyscrapers possible.  You can still see his name on elevators and escalators created by the Otis Elevator Company all over the world.

Another association: The Adventures of Milo and Otis, the 1989 live action tale of fast friends, a kitten (Milo) and pug puppy (Otis) who have all sorts of unlikely escapades.

There are a handful of places called Otis in the US, Canada and Germany, including a stop on Berlin’s subway.

Back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there boys called Otis aplenty. In 1880, he ranked #156.  By 1899, Otis charted at #94.

His slide started in the 1940s.  On the Andy Griffith Show, it was the name of Mayberry’s town drunk.  Rob Zombie gave the name to one of his murderous Firefly clan members in 1993’s gory House of 1000 Corpses.

By 1994, Otis had exited the US Top 1000 entirely.  Just two decades later, the story is very different.

Tobey Maguire and Jennifer Meyer welcomed Otis Tobias in 2009.  It seemed vintage, quirky, Hollywood.

Earlier this year, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis gave the name to their son, Otis Alexander.  The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

It suggests that Otis’ long hibernation is ending, and indeed, the numbers reflect this.  More than 170 boys were given the name in 2012 and 2013.  Besides his appealing musical ties, we do like an ends in ‘s’ name, from Atticus to Brooks to Miles.

Just don’t call his brother Milo.

What do you think of Otis?  Is he likely to catch on?

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