Octavia: Baby Name of the Day


Octavia: Baby Name of the Day

Octavia combines ancient style with an auspicious meaning, and gets a boost from a popular television character, too.

Our Baby Name of the Day is one of the newest girl names to enter the US Top 1000.

Octavia: Ancient World

Way back in the first century BC, the future Emperor Augustus was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus. His sisters both shared the feminine form of the family name: Octavia Major and Minor. The younger sister married Mark Antony and appears in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. History remembers her as widely respected.

Her great-granddaughter also bore the name, and makes it into our history books at the wife of the Emperor Nero. She’s a tragic figure, but Seneca turned her sufferings into a play, one later adapted for opera by Handel, Kaiser, and Monteverdi.

Octavia: Auspicious

The name simply means eight, from the Latin octavus.

But eight is considered a lucky number in many cultures. Turn it on its side, and 8 resembles the infinity symbol: ∞. In Mandarin, “eight” sounds like the word for “good fortune.”

Maybe it was once reserved for eighth-born children. At least that was true for a few: nineteenth century social reformer Octavia Hill was her father’s eighth child.

Octavia: By the Numbers

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this name appeared in the US Top 1000 consistently. The era was good to ancient names: Homer, Virgil, and Cassius also made the rankings; so did Minerva, Claudia, and Valeria. US President Zachary Taylor gave the name to a daughter born in 1816, but she died in childhood.

The name left the Top 1000 in 1938, returned in the 1970s, and departed again after 1999. Pop culture likely deserves credit for the name’s return in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Octavia: 1970s and 80s

The 70s and 80s were good to Octavia, in a quiet way. Uses include:

  • Prominent science fiction author Octavia E. Butler published her first novel in 1976, and has won Nebula and Hugo awards, along with a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, since.
  • Jilly Cooper gave the name to the title character in a bestselling 1977 novel. Cooper tended to choose a mix of on-trend and offbeat names for her novel titles. There’s also Emily, Bella, Harriet, Imogen, and Prudence.
  • One more literary note: Robert Graves published his tales of the Roman Empire, I, Claudius and Claudius the God back in the 1930s. But they became a BBC miniseries in 1976, and aired on PBS multiple times over the following years.
  • This one might be a little obscure: it’s the name of an evil octopus from 1980s cartoon She-Ra: Princess of Power, a He-Man spin-off.
  • In 1986, a singer by the name scored a dance hit; it looks like the name spiked accordingly.

In some ways, the name never really went away. It just faded in use enough to leave the Top 1000, and languished slightly outside of the rankings for years. Even between the 1970s and 90s, it only made the Top 500 for one brief year, following the pop singer’s biggest hit.

Octavia: Olivia Substitute

Name fans have been talking this one up for years, though. That’s because the similar-sounding Olivia debuted in the US Top 100 in 1990, and has been a Top Ten staple since 2001. We’re all looking for potential substitutes for this chart-topping favorite, and Octavia seems like an obvious possibility.

Potential nickname Tavy is every bit as appealing as Livy, and they both share Via as well as O.

The name also fits with musical choices, from Cadence to Harmony to Aria.

Octavia: Small Screen, Silver Screen

But in 2017, the name rocketed into the Top 1000, returning at #593 – a sky-high re-entry!

The BBC/HBO miniseries Rome failed to spark additional interest in the name, despite featuring a character by the name.

Celebrated, Oscar-winning actor Octavia Spencer gets some credit for the name’s rise. Spencer made her silver screen debut in 1996’s A Time to Kill, won an Oscar for 2011’s The Help, and has gone on to roles in 2016’s Hidden Figures and 2017’s The Shape of Water.

Octavia: Blake

But the factor that put this name over the top? It’s almost certainly The 100, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that debuted on The CW in 2014. The series gave us Octavia Blake, younger sister to Bellamy, from the first episode. But she became more of a central character as the series went on, developing into a fierce warrior, and, by the current season, a capable – if ruthless – queen.

Between the fictional ruler and the real-life Hollywood A-lister, no surprise that this Olivia substitute is finding favor once more.

Do you prefer Octavia to Olivia? Do you think this name will continue to rise?

Editor’s note: This post originally ran on August 8, 2008 and was revised and re-posted on December 27, 2011 and again on June 6, 2018.

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35 Comments

I’m so excited to see this re-run! I love the name Octavia. It hits all of the things I like about a name. Slightly different, literary, and still sounds strong. I think I’d have problems naming a second child though. I wouldn’t know what to pair with the goregous Octavia.

I also knew an Octavia growing up in the UK. I’m 31 now and she was a couple of years older than me. I do like the name. Having known someone with the name makes it less ‘out there’ for me too. 🙂

I like O names and names with a ‘v’ in them and girls names that end in ‘a’ – so Octavia has 3 bonus points for me there. I guess 4 syllables would be a negative one though.

Met a little “Tayvia” once – loved it. Mom told me it was not a nickname, but I think it would work great for a little Octavia.

I love Octavia, although I automatically want to add Butler to it. I feel like I missed the boat, Maria is my parent’s eighth (or fifth if you don’t count step-kids.) Maria Octavia could of been very cute.

I like Octavia very much. It’s underused but not over the top. I like Cordelia better (as far as ancient feminissa names go) but Octavia really is great 🙂 And I had never thought of the nickname Tavy, awesome!

I love Octavia! I do like the super feminine, Victorian-esque names like these. I like Tavia as a nickname, but am not a fan of Tavy. It sounds too cat-like. I wish Ocatavia wouldn’t sound so out of place in my neck of the woods. I would use it in a heartbeat.

my name is Octavia. my family nickname is tavi. I hate it. my friends call me tav . I hate that too. I like tavia

There was a girl in the same year with me all through school named Octavia (I’m 25). So I guess I never considered it an “out there” name. When I hear Octavia I think of her. I like the name in theory, similar names like Cordelia, Augustus & Vivienne are on my list, but probably because of my old classmate, Octavia doesn’t make the cut.

I love the Oct- names.. October being one of my top lists.. but Octavia is so romantic and fun with the V in the middle. I love her solid foot in history, and her under use in modern day makes her very appealing. Great Replay!

I adore Octavia. Such a fine example of a strong, regal, feminine name. If I were to use her I think I’d have to keep her in the middle spot though.

Abby-

Im so glad to see you did a post on Octavia. I’ve been seeing this name everywhere lately. (hopefully that doesnt mean its about to become popular) I love the sound of Octavia and would definatly use it on a daughter….of course other “over the top names” I like include names like Cordelia. I just like names that scream literary and girl.

hi, my name is Octavia Shanelle Henderson. I have recently met a guy with eight children and was wondering was it fate and if he is my soulmate, but sadly he just not soulmate material. lol…. Im 20 and on August 1st i will be 21. I’d hope to see that my name meant eight children because in 3rd or 4th grade my teacher made us look up our names n i remember mine meaning eight children.

I love the name Octavia! It’s so pretty, and I often suggest it as an alternative to Olivia. The only thing that holds me back from wanting to use it is the “eight” reference — perhaps if I had a child born in October or if I somehow ended up with eight children (eek!). I like how you’ve related it to the octave, though… that makes it seem a bit more usable.

While we’re on the subject, I think Clio is lovely! May I ask what you’re planning on for her middle names? (Maybe you’ve already mentioned it… somewhere didn’t you say you were giving her two?)

Kayt, Nice names! I love Daphne Margaret. It’s very classy, and Daphne is so underused. James Kenneth is nice too.

Verity, Clio is really cute. Thank God you didn’t spell it Cleo. It reminds me of Miss Cleo (psychic) or the gold fish in Pinocchio. Clio is much better. I like it alot better than Chloe. No offense to anyone who likes Chloe but it’s way overrated.

I personally love Calista. I’m obsessed with Greek names lately and Calista is another one that’s underused, probably because of Calista Flockhart and I’ve noticed that alot of people I know don’t like her for some reason. I like her and the name itself is pretty. I am keeping my mind open to it if I have another daughter. I already have Athena and Xanthe high on my list and Calista is pretty high up too. If I have a son, his name’s gonna be Eamon Michael. Eamon is an Irish name and I really like it, and Michael was my late father’s name. Eamon also has never hit the top 1000 in the US even once since the 19th century and possibly even earlier. I heard the name once and I thought it sounded nice so I looked it up and it means rich/blessed protector.

I think Clio is so sweet! It’s such an underrated name. I think using the Clio version is so much better, too. It has the muse behind it. I’ve never like Cleo because it’s ‘just’ a nickname for Cleopatra; not my style at all! I don’t care for Chloe at all, I can’t lie. I prefer Clio and Zoe over Chloe. Chloe’s also too common for me anyways.

We’re having a James Kenneth! Kenneth is a huge family name for my husband, and we could basically only agree on James for a boy. I pushed for Theodore, Gideon, or Dexter, but I got shot down times a thousand. Oh well. If we have a girl next time around, she’ll definitely be Daphne Margaret.

Verity – I think the difference in spelling between Clio and Chloe is wide enough for an intelligent person to tell the difference immediately. If you went with Cleo, you might have more of a problem on your hands. Regardless, with all the Chloes being born these days, Clio is a lovely change – and a beautiful name in its own right! NotD Clio, please.

Another, if Clio passes your test, it must be okay. 🙂 But I suspect she’s going to be called Chloe – a lot, and I’m starting to worry about that. (We were at a picnic ydy and she was called Chloe twice – and she’s still in utero! Nothing against Chloe, it’s just not the name we picked.)

Kayt, congrats! That’s SO exciting. Are you planning to find out the gender?

Funny, I’d name a daughter Octavia in a heartbeat – it’s actually on our shortlist! I was captivated by I, Claudius when I saw in on PBS in high school in the 80s, and I really love names from the Roman Empire – as does my husband. It’s one of the few naming categories where we both agree.

Kayt, thanks for asking – Clio will be with us in about seven weeks. Alexei appears to be excited by the prospect of a little sister, but I suspect he’ll be less-than-thrilled when the baby comes home.

And Lola, LOL at the octopus reference – I’m short and curvy, and would KILL to be long and lanky! It makes me think you’re raising a tribe of supermodels. 🙂

It is funny that Kevin Sorbo’s daughter’s name is so mismatched from his sons, isn’t it? Interesting.

I love Octavia. It’s so different and in my opinion, it’s alot nicer than Olivia. I’m actually really sick of people giving their kids common names like Olivia, Emma, Aidan, etc… You pretty much hear those everyday. I prefer something unique but still not over the top.

I was friends with an Octavia in 6th grade too. She was a great person. I don’t know if I would name any of my children this, but I’m keeping my mind open to it. Maybe my future boyfriend/hubby will have the same style of baby names as I do too. lol

Thanks for using this one – i love it!!
So classy and feminine.
I don’t think i would name a child this though, it is perhaps a bit weighty of a name to carry.

To me, Octavia is in the same group as Ophelia, Morgaine, Rosalind, Gwenevere, etc. She’s ancient and works really well on a romantic heroine of yesterday – but name my daugher Ocavia? No way.

I am an Octavia fan in theory, but it does seem like a slightly over-the-top name. I do agree that she was most appropriate to focus on today and if I gave birth to a girl on 08-08-08 I don’t see how I could resist naming her Octavia. When I lived in Rome, one of the then new babies (now about eight or nine) was named Ottavia.

I love Octavia. It’s one of the names I always suggest for people looking for alternatives to Olivia. It’s a real bummer my husband is so boring with names, or it would be on the short list for a girl.

How’s your bean doing, Verity? I have this recollection that you mentioned you were expecting like a billion years ago.

Hmm… I don’t really like Octavia that much. It seems like such a hard name for a child to wear; for me Octavia always seems like a strict and stringy older woman. I do like the possibility of the nickname Tavy, which I have to admit is quite cute, but I don’t think Octavia would fit very well on a modern child. It would be a neat choice for a middle name though!

I quite like Octavia, myself and would put her on my list for potential use if it weren’t for the unfortunate octopus teasing my brther gives her. I have lean, lanky kids who could be called stringy, almost and my brother’s called my boys (in particular) Octopii for years. I adore her literary history, and I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned my minor obsession with Opera names; Octavia fits right in there for me! Rythmic, gorgeous and completely feminine, what’s not to love?

There’s a celebrity link too, minor thought it is: Kevin Sorbo (He of Hercules & Andromeda fame) has an Octavia (his boys are somewhat different: Braeden & Shane).

I think she’s got a great sound, an awesome history and a regal feel. Her nicknames don’t appeal but that doesn’t stop me from liking Octavia very much indeed. 😀