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.