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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Our daughter (who 3 years old now) IS called Odessa. My partner is Polish (I am English myself) – so you can imagine our difficulty in finding a name we both liked (I wasn’t keen on Kazimiera and she wasn’t keen on Aerial). We do sometimes use the shortened “Dessa”, and so does our little princess. It’s exotic without being too weird, and we like the positive meaning in the name book of “long journey” – something that we hope her life will represent. We always understood that the name was in fact from ancient Greece – and relates to Homer’s Odyssey, but others have suggested that we named our child with a place name (mainly Polish relatives, understandably, tend to this theory). In England some of my relatives refer to the “Odessa Files” – both a movie, and the German Codename for an operation to smuggle WW2 war criminals to Brazil – so named, I believe, because it DID involve a very circuitous and long journey.

    Wikipedia says of the town Odessa “The origin of the name, or the reasons for naming the town Odessa, are not known. A legend regarding a link with the name of the ancient Greek colony persists, so there might be some truth in the oral tradition.”

    Check out what other women called Odessa say about their name:

    Anyway – hear is my tribute to Odessa May who, to my ears, has the sweetest name I have ever heard 🙂

  2. The word Odessa created from word “odessos”. “Odessos” was the name of ancinent greek colony, located close to modern Varna, Bulgaria. However this word has not got Greek origin. The word “odessos” was boroowed by Greeks from Ducksie people and it means “marine”. So “Odessa” means “marine”. I amd not ready to tell if it is good or not to give name of Odessa to baby.

  3. I was just about to suggest this for a name of the day, and then I looked, and here it is! I really love it. I wish there weren’t so many other girls names I loved so I could make this number one on my list, haha (that doesn’t really make any sense, does it?)… I thought of the name Odessa Snow, and I totally fell in love. I think if I’d had a baby girl today (it was snowing today), I wouldn’t have been able to help myself. I think Odessa is just so pretty, I can’t believe she’s not more popular. I told my husband that someday he needs to give me a white kitten for Christmas so I can name her that. I actually just made a character on Rock Band named Odessa Snow and she’s totally my favorite character I’ve ever made… Wow, as I write this I’m liking Odessa more and more. Yay for new favorites!

  4. Now that you mention it, I do see how you get a Western vibe from Odessa! Missouri, Nebraska and Texas all have a town by the name; Kansas has two. But beyond the fact that it’s a place name familiar in the West, there *is* something about that “d” and the rhythm of the name.

    While Olivia and Ophelia are pretty and romantic, Odessa feels adventurous. IMHO, it’s infinitely more appealing than Savannah.

  5. Man I love Odessa. It’s so spunky sounding to me. Somehow, it sounds kind of Western-y to me, like Savannah, only without the stripper feel.