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.
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.
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.