Cropped screenshot of Osa Massen from the trai...
Osa Massen; Image via Wikipedia

She’s an adventurous name with mysterious origins.

Thanks to Leslie for suggesting Osa as our Baby Name of the Day.

There’s one famous Osa, and her biography is so impressive that she’s really quite enough. Born in 1894, Osa Helen Leighty was still a Kansas teenager when she met a traveling photographer ten years her senior. The couple fell in love, eloped, and after a few attempts at predictable domesticity, took to traversing the globe to film wild beasts and cannibals. The duo filmed eight movies and published nine books. She was no mere helpmeet, either – Osa earned her pilot’s license just like husband Martin Johnson, and she once shot a rhino that charged at them during a shoot. Her biography was called I Married Adventure. Indeed she did!

But where did Osa’s unusual appellation come from?

Surprise! It wasn’t actually all that unusual. In 1894, Osa ranked #774 in the US, and she’d rank in – or just outside – the Top 1000 most years from 1880 through 1906.

Part of it must have been sound. Rosa and Rose-related names were huge. Osie was in use, too, just like Rosie and Josie. The 2010 rankings give us names like Bria, Carlie, Haylie, and Kaya around the same popularity mark. Could Osa be the nineteenth-century equivalent of those names – ones that share sounds with stylish baby names, rather than a completely separate choice?

Maybe. But there’s also some suggestion of a Scandinavian heritage for Osa. With names like Astrid and Åsa, we’re reminded that the Old Norse word for god is áss or óss. While given names have favored the As- spelling as they standardized, it is certainly possible that Os- had a good run as a valid variant.

There was a Danish actress called Osa Massen, but she was born Aase in 1914. She had a brief career in Hollywood, but that was long after the name had faded from use.

Osa is so short that other meanings are sure to attach. It is a place name from Russia to India, and a boys’ name in some African languages.

Osanna and Osanne are Italian and French feminine names, both related to hosanna – a word denoting salvation, commonly used in the liturgies of many faith traditions. While both have many appealing characteristics, I’m not sure if they’d find favor with modern American parents, thanks to their similarity to Osama.

I’ll admit that I also think of Disney Channel’s secret agent teddy bear, Special Agent Oso.

Osa remains a mystery, a rather lovely rarity. She’s not likely to find much use in the US today, though she wouldn’t be out of place with Ada and Isla. If this one is to be found on your family tree, or if you’re looking for a name to honor your Kansas roots, Osa might be the one for you.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Being in the Environmental Health and Safety profession myself…I can’t get OSHA out of my mind.

  2. Osa would be difficult to use anywhere there is a large Spanish-speaking population (I’m from California), as it means “female bear”.

    1. Well, that’s what Ursa means, and they’re very close. Ursula is a personal fav of mine.

      I love Osa. Just spotted it last week on a home blog and have been looking at it ever since for a character name.

  3. Interesting! I’ve never come across Osa before. She definitely has a Scandinavian sound. Tell me, is the s pronounced like the s in Lisa or Rosa?

      1. Unless, of course, the origin is other-than-Scandinavian. In which case, it could be either …

  4. Not a fan – though I like many short two-syllable I hate the hissing sound. I would prefer the Asha which you had recently. BTW the In Polish “osa” means “wasp”. 🙂