Thanks to Kayt for suggesting Odessa as today’s Name of the Day. While to many it simply sounds like yet another name torn from the map and pasted on a baby, Odessa has a surprisingly long history of use.
Even if your roots don’t lead to the Ukraine or one of the half-dozen or so American cities with this lovely appellation, it might make an appealing choice for your daughter.
Step into the Wayback Machine, and you’ll find plenty of women called Odessa in 19th and early 20th century America. Yes, there were far more Marys and Margarets. But Odessa ranked in the Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1956. That’s between a dozen and 250 girls called Odessa each year for well over seven decades. Look far enough back on your family tree, and you might find a great-great-aunt or third cousin twice removed. We once knew a Jennifer Odessa, given her unusual middle moniker in honor of a grandmother. (And yes, she preferred it to her über-common first name.)
There are two possible origins for Odessa.
It’s important to remember that place names are simply not new. Odessa, a major port on the Black Sea in what is today the Ukraine, is a picturesque city, rich with history. While a former part of the Soviet Union conjures a rather industrial image, we understand that there is much to love in this capital, including architecture that brings to mind the best of Renaissance Italy, rather than a totalitarian regime.
Doubtless some of those 19th and early 20th century Odessas could trace their roots back to this place. And so, just as parents of Italian descent today consider Ravenna or Sicily for a daughter’s name, a family with Ukrainian roots could certainly think about using Odessa.
But Odessa may also be a feminine version of Odysseus, the Greek hero name immortalized in Homer’s epic. It makes for an intriguing read on the name. While Odysseus is usually said to mean pain or suffering – those familiar with the tale will attest that the character gives and gets his share of both – the word odyssey has come to have a more positive meaning. Odyssey conjures up adventure; even a quest. Those who take a circuitous route to parenthood may like the idea of naming their daughter after this quality. It’s far more subtle than noun names like Journey or Story, but captures the same concept.
And let’s not overlook that letter O at the top of this name. Odessa is a fitting substitute for parents in love with Olivia, but worried it’s worn out from overuse. O remains the coolest of the vowels when it comes to baby-naming, whether it’s at the top (Olivia, Owen, Oliver) or the end (Leo, Theo, Clio, Juno). While the nickname Odie would bring to mind a dopey cartoon dog from Jim Davis’ Garfield-verse, Dess and Dessa would work well, especially considering the popularity of the similar Tess and Tessa.
The name is simple, feminine, easy to spell, gives parents two meanings to ponder and has not appeared in the Top 1000 for more than half a century.
It might be time to add Odessa to your list of possibles for a darling daughter.