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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