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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 1, 2008.  It was substantially revised and reposted on June 16, 2014.

Not one, but two, high profile Hollywood couples have chosen this vintage name with musical ties for their sons in recent years.

Thanks to Another for suggesting Otis as today’s Baby Name of the Day.

There’s something clunky about Otis, but his most famous bearer is downright musical.

Otis Redding, Jr.’s songs are immortal. Hits like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay,” earned Redding a spot in the Rock of Roll Hall of Fame and, eventually, a lifetime achievement Grammy.  All this despite Redding’s tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 26.  “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” was actually released posthumously.

The musician lends the name a strong artistic tone, along the lines of Lennon or Miles.

And yet, as well known as Redding remains, I hesitate every time I say his first name.  It’s pronounced with a long O sound – OH tis, rhymes with oat and boat.  But my instinct is pronounce it like AH tis, the same way his cousin Otto is pronounced.

Speaking of Otto, Otis is to Otto as Davis is to David – originally a surname form.  Otto comes from the Germanic odo – fortune or wealth.  Like many a surname, Otis has a long history of use as a given name, too.

Elisha Otis developed a safety feature that improved on fledgling elevator technology, an innovation that made modern skyscrapers possible.  You can still see his name on elevators and escalators created by the Otis Elevator Company all over the world.

Another association: The Adventures of Milo and Otis, the 1989 live action tale of fast friends, a kitten (Milo) and pug puppy (Otis) who have all sorts of unlikely escapades.

There are a handful of places called Otis in the US, Canada and Germany, including a stop on Berlin’s subway.

Back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there boys called Otis aplenty. In 1880, he ranked #156.  By 1899, Otis charted at #94.

His slide started in the 1940s.  On the Andy Griffith Show, it was the name of Mayberry’s town drunk.  Rob Zombie gave the name to one of his murderous Firefly clan members in 1993’s gory House of 1000 Corpses.

By 1994, Otis had exited the US Top 1000 entirely.  Just two decades later, the story is very different.

Tobey Maguire and Jennifer Meyer welcomed Otis Tobias in 2009.  It seemed vintage, quirky, Hollywood.

Earlier this year, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis gave the name to their son, Otis Alexander.  The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

It suggests that Otis’ long hibernation is ending, and indeed, the numbers reflect this.  More than 170 boys were given the name in 2012 and 2013.  Besides his appealing musical ties, we do like an ends in ‘s’ name, from Atticus to Brooks to Miles.

Just don’t call his brother Milo.

What do you think of Otis?  Is he likely to catch on?

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. I was pleasantly surprised in a name nerd sort of way when I learned Olivia Wilde named her baby Otis. I definitely think Otis is ready to slowly come back.

  2. Hmmm … I didn’t think Otis would be a big crowd pleaser, but I think it is the kind of name that’s truly refreshing on a child today.

    I met a small Martin this afternoon – actually, I know his Mom slightly but hadn’t known her son’s name. She seemed truly astounded when I said I loved it – it’s a family tradition. But there’s something about a throwback moniker that just seems so fresh right now. Not only are the Jaydens and Kalebs saturated, but even some of the strong classics for boys – Charlie, Theo, Henry – are now too frequently heard. It makes me long to meet an Otis.

    But hey, I met a Martin today, so I can’t be greedy. 😉

    As for farms? I love my farmer’s market, but urban dweller that I am, I can’t imagine calling a cow anything. Isn’t that awful? If I named a cow, I’d probably call him Thelonious or Django – something you’d just about never use for a child. Then again, Thelonious is kinda cool …

  3. I always think of Milo when I hear Otis – and vice versa. It screams “farm fresh” to me -either as Lola suggested, it’s a great name for a cow, or it’s a wonderful name for the farmer himself. I’mnot a fan.

  4. I find Otis charmingly fresh. My only reference is probably the newest of the bunch: “Back at the Barnyard” A Nickleodeon show that’s already had a movie start. Otis is the main character, a cow with a serious wild streak. He actually doesn’t bother me much at all, I think he’s cute. Otis is rather snappy, friendly and happy. 🙂 I think I prefer the original Otto more, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Otis in my mind. I’d love to meet one!