It’s a great choice for a German ruler, but what about a little American boy?
Thanks to Emma for suggesting the surprisingly wearable Otto as Baby Name of the Day.
Like the very popular Hannah, Otto is a palindrome – a word spelled the same forwards and backwards. It’s a quirky quality, but probably not reason enough to choose the name for a son.
Otto’s status as a historic and regal appellation is probably a better reason. Flip through the history books and you’ll find three Holy Roman Emperors from the 900s into the 1200s wearing the name, plus nineteenth century kings of Greece and Bavaria. A twelfth century Saint Otto lived in Swabia.
Then there’s Otto von Bismarck, the man that lends Otto his Prussian military vibe. Historians debate whether Bismarck always planned to unify Germany or if he was just taking advantage of circumstances. Regardless, Bismarck was appointed by a king but eventually served an emperor.
As all things German fell out of favor during World Wars I and II, it is no surprise that Otto fell out of use. But he’d been slipping for years. In the nineteenth century, Otto appeared in the US Top 100. He fell steadily, leaving the Top 500 in the 1940s and the Top 1000 in the 1970s.
Of course, the 1970s made Otto a punchline. In the smash hit comedy Airplane, the autopilot blow-up doll is called Otto. Otto, of course, can fly the plane but can’t land, requiring former fighter pilot Ted Striker to step up and save the day. And get the girl.
As if the inflatable flyboy wasn’t enough to steer parents away from the name, there’s also the adoption of Otto the Orange as Syracuse University’s mascot in 1980. He replaced a controversial Native American figure.
But today Otto need not be ostracized. Yes, there’s still a whiff of German imperialism about him. But he has much in common with starts-with-O favorites like Oliver and Oscar, as well as ends-in-o choices like Leo and Milo. (See? That palindrome business does matter.)
While regional accents could morph your son’s name from Otto to Auto, he’s still an interesting option. Nameberry lists him with Antiques Ready for Restoration. This puts him in the company of the dusty Dudley and languishing Lavinia, but also the fast-rising Adeline and Jasper.
If you’re not sure you’d consider Otto a classic along the lines of Henry or Arthur, Otto also appears on Nameberry’s Offbeat Names list, and that might be the better place for him. The Offbeat list also includes new hipster picks like Hazel and Rufus, but also names that might take some real daring, like Pansy and Balthazar. Tobey Maguire called his son Otis – a name that seems even more offbeat.
If I had to file Otto, I’d put him squarely in the middle of the two categories. He’s easy to say and spell, and his roots are undeniable. But he is definitely just outside of the mainstream. That might make him too daring for parents who are still surprised to hear Max and Leo in heavy use. But if you’re hoping to give your son a name he’ll never have to share, Otto is a good option.