The baby name Otto could follow Leo and Milo straight up the popularity charts.
Thanks to Emma for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The baby name Otto comes from the Germanic aud, meaning fortune – as in wealth. It evolved from Odo, and it used to occur in lots of compound names, like Otfrid.
But we know this name best as Otto.
Fun fact: like Hannah – and taco cat – Otto is a palindrome. It’s spelled and pronounced the same forwards and backwards.
Flip through the history books and you’ll find plenty of rulers who answered to Otto.
It appears in the 600s as the name of a court official. Three Holy Roman Emperors wore the name, along with nineteenth century kings of Greece and Bavaria.
There’s a Saint Otto in the 1100s, known for his efforts as missionary within Pomerania. Others had attempted to forcibly convert the Slavic tribes there; apparently Saint Otto persuaded them instead.
Then there’s Otto von Bismark, in all of his Prussian military regalia. He was appointed by a king, but eventually served an emperor, as his efforts united Germany. A brilliant politician and diplomat, he served as the new nation’s first chancellor from 1871 until 1890, dominating European affairs in the late nineteenth century.
BY THE NUMBERS
It’s not clear if American parents were influenced by the German statesman, but the name did regularly appear in the US Top 100 in the late nineteenth century. It seems more likely that it was simply a traditional German name imported to the US with immigrant families.
However, all things German fell out of favor during the World Wars.
The baby name Otto was already declining in 1914. By 1918, when the war concluded, the name was at #181.
World War II accelerated the trend, but Otto remained in the Top 1000 through 1974.
The 1970s made Otto a punchline. In smash hit comedy Airplane, the autopilot is an inflatable doll called – what else? – Otto. Former fighter pilot Ted Striker will have to step up to save the day.
In 1980, Syracuse University named their new mascot Otto the Orange. (Yup, he’s an orange.)
And in 1988 heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Klein played a villain named Otto West.
We recognized it as a name. But parents didn’t hear the baby name Otto as a serious option for their children. By 1984, just 45 boys were named Otto – an all-time low.
But names go in cycles, and the baby name Otto is no exception.
The letter O has had a good run in recent decades. Just ask Oliver and Oscar, Leo and Arlo.
The baby name Otto fit with offbeat traditional names that parents were ready to rediscover. By 2011, it was back in the Top 1000. It’s climbed steadily, reaching #427 as of 2019.
Hit television series Sons of Anarchy includes “Big Otto” Delaney, played by series creator Kurt Delaney.
It’s hard to imagine motorcycle gang members inspiring baby names, but there’s no question the series had an impact: names like Jax, Gemma, and Ezekiel all got a boost from the show.
On a different note, lots of children’s series started to embrace the name. Nickelodeon’s Rocket Power, Cartoon Network’s Time Squad, and PBS Kids’ Odd Squad all gave us more age-appropriate Ottos.
BOY NAMES ENDING WITH O
But the biggest trend that lifted Otto comes down to that o-ending. In 2019, Cairo and Kairo, Tadeo, Niko, Camilo, Leandro, Aldo, Maximo, and Jairo were all fast-risers. The baby name Otto seems downright mainstream in their company.
And yet, it still sits at #427. That makes it a good choice for parents after something with the same traditional vibe as Theo or Max, but looking for a name their son will rarely have to share.
What do you think of the baby name Otto? Can you imagine it catching on?
First published on June 11, 2010, this post was revised and re-published on October 21, 2020.
Randy D. Reutzel says
My grandfather was Otto, born in U.S. but birth certificate written in German (born 1881).
My son’s middle name is Otto, after my grandmother. Otto was her maiden name.
My son is Otto Paul Ernst II. We named him for his great grandfather who was born in 1898 and my Otto was born in 1998. We have used family names for both of our children.
We named my son Otto Sebastian. Respect for heritage was one reason, are last name being 10 letters VAN ZEVEREN was another, and finally being a raider fan he is named after the legendary Jim OTTO and SEBASTIAN Janakowski. I like EMIL also as it was my great grand fathers name but the wife not so much.
Otto Sebastian is a great name – just fun to say, and a nice balance of the familiar and current, but not so popular he’ll have to answer to Otto V.
Though actually, Otto V. is kinda cool …
British American says
Thanks to the link posted today (http://www.nancy.cc/2010/06/07/baby-boy-names-outside-of-the-top-1000/) I spotted Otto just outside the top 1000.
168 boys were named Otto in the US in 2009. 🙂
My mother’s maiden name is Otteson and I’ve toyed with using Otto or actually my ancestor’s name, Otten. I really glad to hear such positive reactions because when I mentioned the name to non-name enthusiasts, they’ve looked at me like I was crazy. Another one to put on the list…
Oh that’s a neat connection! I like Otto in general, but for you, I love it!
also… I actually like the Simpsons connotation haha
I LOVE OTTO! Otto and Emil are my top two boys names. Loving the German names.
I didn’t realize I had an accent, but I’m from California and say auto and Otto exactly the same. I also say Dawn and Don exactly the same.
I kind of like Otto despite my pronunciation. It’s a family name on my husband’s side so I’ve thought about it. I don’t think it’d go over very well where I live though. I prefer Otis and I’m kind of surprised that is considered more offbeat.
Don’t forget Anne Frank’s father who was named Otto!
And the cartoon character from Rocket Power, Otto Rocket.
I’m too much of a Simpsons fan to take the name Otto seriously. The first thing that came to my head was his quote: ‘My name is Otto. I loooove to get blotto’. Maybe not the kind of association I’d want for my kid.
Still, it’s a nice sounding name apart from my associations.
I like names that start with O and names that end in O, so I do like Otto! 🙂
@ Sara: Titus and Otto are perfect together! 🙂
shelly ok says
I like Otto, despite the fact that I had a mean bus driver in kindergarten named Otto. I also read, “A Fish Out of Water” as a kid—one of my favorites, in fact! I think that outweighs the negative connotation.
I prefer Otis to Otto, though. O names are tough with my last name–which is a bummer because I like many O names for boys.
Sara—Titus and Otto would be fantastic!!
I can see it go hipster, but I don’t see it getting overexposed. All in all, I think Otto is great.
OH MY! Swoon. Am I really so daring? Titus and Otto – could they be brothers? My grandfather was German after all…
LOVE that combo, Sara!!
Funny to read this. We are expecting a child and (should the baby be a boy) we’re debating Otto vs. Titus.
The name seems sort of doggish to me, but that not be a huge problem seeing how many names are widely used for both people and pets. I think that Otto may be the name of the dog in the Hagar the Horrible comic strip, which could be why I have that impression.
Right! THAT is where I remember Otto from!
Not doing much for me…just sounds like a solid, sturdy name. I’m picturing a wrestler or an English bulldog, along the same lines as Sluggo or Gordo. Just a personal reaction, sorry…
British American says
I like Otto – and Oliver and Oscar too. Must be the letter O.
The name does have a fishy vibe to me – because of the book ‘ A Fish Out of Water’ that I read as a child and now again to my children. Otto is the name of the pet fish. But that’s not really a problem.
The name may be slightly more ‘foreign / German’ sounding than I think I could personally pull off – though it would match the origin of Henry’s name too. I doubt my husband would go for it though.
The ‘Auto’ pronunciation would bug me a bit too, in contrast to my “Ott-oh” accent. 😛
Don’t forget the great Otto Preminger! Wasn’t the Kevin Kline character in A Fish Called Wanda named Otto? Whenever I hear Otto, I don’t think of the crazy character but the devilishly handsome Kline. Otto rings for me as very likable and quirky. I think it has shed it’s stuffy Germanic tone.
LOVE Otto! Along with Oliver and Oscar (2 of 3 finalist names for our son), Otto made the list. It would be fantastic to hear of more little Ottos!
Another Otto is The Simpson’s bus driver.
Isn’t he “Auto”? Or is that just me mis-hearing it with my foreign accent? LOL!
Nope, he’s called Otto Mann.
British American says
I’d always thought he was Auto too. 😛
I love Otto. I think Otto is due for a comeback.
My son’s middle name is Otto, after my maternal grandfather, also Otto, who was born in Denmark. I am surprised how many people say they love the name, and think it is “cool
and “trendy” and “hipster”. To me, it’s just my granddad’s name! 🙂