Theodore: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on November 4, 2013

Saint Theodore of Amasea by Filippo PalizziEditor’s note: This post was originally published on October 24, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on November 4, 2013.

If this name just says singing chipmunk to you, you’re missing quite a bit of the story.

Thanks to Katharine for suggesting Theodore as our Baby Name of the Day.

Well before chubby chipmunk Theodore Seville first appeared on television with Alvin and Simon in the 1960s, this moniker was well established. In fact, it stretches back to pre-Christian times, making the animated rodent more of a footnote than a defining figure.

The Greek name was Theodoros and you can probably pick apart the meaning. Theos refers to god; doron means gift – God’s gift.

Theodore was in heavy use in the ancient world:

  • A pioneering sixth century BC architect was known as Theodorus of Samos.
  • In the 400s BC, Theodorus of Cyrene developed early mathematical theories related to square roots.
  • In the fourth century BC, philosopher Theodorus Atheus was best known for his lack of belief in the gods.
  • A few centuries later, the soldier Theodore of Amasea was martyred for his Christian convinctions in the 400s AD and eventually sainted.  (That’s him on the horse, above.)
  • Around the same time, Biblical scholar Theodore of Mopsuestia was writing. He’d eventually be sainted by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
  • 7th century Byzantine military leader Theodore Trithyrius is one of many Eastern bearers of the name.
  • In the same era, Saint Theodore of Tarsus served as archbishop of Canterbury.
  • A few hundred years later, Saint Theodore of Studium would help revive monastic life in Byzantium.

Add in a pair of popes and the rulers of Naples, Russia, Corsica, Ethiopia, Antioch and Montferrat and this was a widely known name well before the nineteenth century.

But not until around 1800 did the name become popular in English, when those creative Victorians finally discovered Theodore. And so in addition to the ancient and medieval bearers, there are literary Theodores (Dreiser, Roethke) and, of course, the 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.

While there aren’t tons of nicknames for this classic appellation, the available choices are appealing – the vibrant Theo, the cuddly Teddy and the retro Ted.

He’s attracting more attention than ever nowadays.  Theodore ranked #301 in 2007, and had climbed more than one hundred places to #197 by 2012.  He shows no signs of slowing down, as parents look for classic choices slightly less common than William and Alexander.

Theodore’s comeback is no surprise.  Friendly short form Theo is rising rapidly, too.  He charted at #793 in 2012, representing almost 300 boys called just Theo.

And why not?  After all:

  • Our informal culture is more and more likely to put the name intended for daily use on the birth certificate.
  • Ends with -o names for boys are the height of style, so parents who might find Theodore stiff could still fall for lively Theo.
  • This generation of parents grew up with Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show and, more recently, Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother.
  • Bryce Dallas Howard is just one of the high profile parents to give the name to a child.
  • The rise of Leo and Leo- names has surely helped, too.

If you’re looking for an indisputable classic with easy nickname choices and a smart sound that isn’t wildly common, it’s tough to do much better than Theodore.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

KatieB November 5, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Theodore “Teddy” is our choice for a second boy. I think Teddy & Wiley would make an adorable sib set.

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appellationmountain November 7, 2013 at 8:09 AM

Teddy and Wiley are great together!

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waltzingmorethanmatilda November 4, 2013 at 7:51 PM

I guess I missed the singing Chimpmunks or they didn’t make an impression on me – I’m vaguely aware they existed, but never knew any of them had names!

Love the name Theodore, and as it’s climbing very steeply here, expect to see plenty in time. Have suggested the name to husband, shot down in flames (add to long list of rejected boys names, as he only seems to like names for girls).

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tonia November 4, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Theodore is my favorite boy name. Can I indulge for just a second and tell you my dream sibset? Hubby and I have very different naming styles, so we do lots of compromising. On both sides. But if it were up to me, I’d have 5 kids: Luscianna, Theodore, Ezekiel, Rosalind, and Aurelia. I won the first battle, but we call her Lucy or Luz. I didn’t win the battle for Theodore, but we settled on Dhev, which is a Sanskrit variation with a very similar meaning (Dev is “God”). Can’t wait to see what the future holds!

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appellationmountain November 5, 2013 at 6:59 AM

What lovely names, Tonia – Luscianna is stunning! And Dhev is great.

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Smismar April 9, 2011 at 11:12 PM

I really like Theodore. In fact, I think it’s creeping close to #1 on my boys’ list. It does nix using Simon as a middle name, sadly, which I’ve always liked due to family. I like Ted/Teddy for nicknames – sounds like a friendly, likable, everyman. Theo seems like it’s trying too hard. I could see Dory, too, maybe for a young child.

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Another October 26, 2008 at 12:42 AM

I think Ted and Teddy are the only options for me. To me Theo will always be a Huxtable. Theodore is my husband’s middle name and his grandfather’s first name. Seeing as our son has my husband’s father’s name as his middle name, I’ve had it with using family names! I’m going for originality next time. At most I’ll use an S or an L to honor my grandparents, but no name copies!

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Another October 26, 2008 at 12:40 AM

I think Ted and Teddy are the only options for me. To me Theo will always be a Huxtable. Theodore is my husband’s middle name and his grandfather’s first name. Seeing as our son has my husband’s father’s name as his middle name, I’ve had it with using family names! I’m going for originality next time. At most I’ll use an S or an L to honor my grandparents, but no name copies!

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Corinne October 25, 2008 at 8:44 PM

Theodore’s one of my top ten boys. He’d be Theo, thought. For the full-blown Theodore I’d be fearful of him being called Theodore-the-bore. My poor boy!

Ted’s a little too How I Met Your Mother for me, and Teddy is Teddy Roosevelt. Theo’s my artsy little boy.

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Kate October 25, 2008 at 9:53 AM

Thanks for making Theodore name of the day Verity, s you know I struggle with boys names but I do love Theodore, he’s so strong, proper and classical sounding but without being too mainstream. I’m not a fan of Theo though – I’ve come across too many namby-pamby Theo’s in my time! But I adore Ted or Teddy, I’m swooning at the thought…

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Lola October 24, 2008 at 11:03 PM

Oh, I love Theodore! He’s my favorite, living Uncle too! (one if Dad’s brothers). Sadly, I’ve already used Simon. Leo, Simon & Theodore is asking for “hey, where’s Alvin?” jokes. Nevewrmind, because the Uncle’s Ted/Teo(now that he’s in NM), Theo would be my choice of nicknames; again, Leo, Simon & Theo? *sigh* Locked out of an awesome name!

I think Theodore is awesome. Strong, handsome, warm & friendly. Teddy’s adorable on a little one, Ted & Ed are classically handsome, Ned is a fresher option that warms my heart, Teo’s cool and Theo’s smart. Theodore’s an all out winner. I mourn his loss often.

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